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Subtle British comedies of sex, morality and class like Mary Broome rarely wash up on these shores without the name George Bernard Shaw attached to them. But thankfully the beachcombers of the Mint Theatre Company, specialists in providing sturdy mountings of the once popular/now obscure, came across this 1911 Allan Monkhouse curiosity that hasn’t been seen in New York since 1919.
The title character (played with noble reserve by Janie Brookshire) is the finest maid ever employed by the exceedingly proper Timbrell family, who quietly confesses in the first scene that she is pregnant by the master’s devilishly irresponsible bachelor son, Leonard (Roderick Hill). In what may seem a surprising move, the family patriarch, Edward (a gruffly domineering Graeme Malcolm), sympathizes more with the help and insists that his son marry her and accept an annual allowance or be cut off from the family wealth. Leonard, who fancies himself as a writer (though an unproductive one), accepts the offer, as does Mary, who does have a gent in her life but would not think of asking him to take her now.
Despite the play’s title, it is Leonard who is the central character, and while a British audience of one hundred years ago might have found him more entertaining and sympathetic than a modern audience of yanks would, Hill, under director Jonathan Bank, skillfully gives Leonard some degree of naïve sincerity to go with his glib humor. If not exactly likeable, he’s not completely abhorrent.
The four talkative acts (delivered in less than two hours) have only a slight plot developing from the marriage and turns mostly into an evening of class-conscious quipping. A slight reminder of how much better Shaw was at this sort of thing arrives with the entrance of Mary’s very Alfred P. Doolittle-ish father. Douglas Rees gives a heartily amusing performance as the self-described radical with socialist leanings; a dingily attired horse-drawn cab driver being driven from his income by the new motorized taxis.
But if the play proves less than satisfactory, it still receives the traditional Mint treatment in a handsomely acted production. Set designer Roger Hanna provides the impression of stately home with a slight touch of modern commentary when an imposing collection of family portraits is used for a very funny sight gag.
Photo of Janie Brookshire and Roderick Hill by Carol Rosegg.
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Posted on September 17, 2012 - by
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About the Author:After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.