I love New York City on a Sunday. It’s a quieter and gentler place, and a great time to do something off-beat and off-Broadway. The Mint Theater at 311 43rd Street, between 8th and 9th, just a block off Time Square, is a good example.
The Mint sits on the third floor of a tall building. An elevator deposits you into a fair-sized lobby where you can buy Mint Mugs and such or just sit for awhile and have a cup of coffee. From the lobby, you enter the theater where there are seven rows of about a hundred seats, and each–except Row A–rises higher from the stage than the one before. There isn’t a bad seat in the house acknowledged by the fact that all seats cost the same–$55 and less with discounts, a bargain even in the colonies.
The Mint Mission is worthy. It is commited to bringing new vitality to neglected plays and to advocating for their ongoing life in theaters across the world. If you think on it, it is much like Plutarch and his peers who pulled from the recesses of old monasteries the works of playwrights such as, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripedes. They gained immortality for these ancients and I suspect that Allan Monkhouse was sitting somewhere amongst us Sunday afternoon basking in the pleasure of watching his early 20th century play performed to a good reception in the early 21st.
Mary Broome is a play strongly influenced by the morals and mores of the Victorian era. (Victorian is particularly in now because of the BBC series, Downton Abbey) It is produced by Jonathan Banks, the artistic director of the Mint Theater Company and performed by a solid cast of seasoned actors with credits from stage, film and television.
The plot is simple. Mary Broome, played by the lovely Janie Brookshire, is a housemaid who is pregnant; the father is Leonard Timbrell, the youngest son of her employer and he’s rather ambivalent about the whole thing. His father isn’t.
Now, most of us could write an ending to this story–we’ve heard them all–running the gamut from suicide and murder to happy ever after, but such responses could make Victorian audiences gasp, and this is pure Victorian. I thought at first that it might be a satire, an indictment of the hypocrisy of the time, but no, it’s a Victorian play written by a man who lived and was influenced by his time. Therein is a major argument for its ongoing life in theaters.
There are four acts and all four take place in the parlor, the most polite room in a house and all four acts politely relate what happened inbetween, that is, behind the curtain–not literally since the Mint stage has no curtain.
The play opens in the Timbrell’s parlor where they are discussing the older son’s upcoming wedding and they casually mention the fact that Mary, who is there–waiting on the family, is pregnant and Leonard’s father offers him an allowance to marry her. No one asks Mary what she wants.
In Act 2, they are back in the Timbrell’s parlor and a lot has happened. Mary is dressed in a long gown and is there for dinner. We find that Mary and Leonard are now married and the baby–a boy–was born and also named Leonard.
In Act 3, Mary and Leonard are in their own meager parlor and he admits that he has squandered the allowance and has no money for food. The baby is crying off-stage and he leaves to pawn his watch for money to bring a doctor.
In Act 4, Mary is in the Timbrell’s parlor to say goodbye and announce that she is going to Canada for a fresh start with an old boyfriend. We also find out that the baby died, and that Leonard never came back with a doctor, nor came back at all. Leonard comes in and tries to get her to stay but she has sense enough to leave.
It was fascinating that Mary had no emotional response to seeing him at the end. Did Mary ever love Leonard? Did Leonard ever love Mary? Did Mary cry for her baby? Did the Timbrell’s know their grandchild? Lots of answers left behind the curtain for a polite little play. Today, with all the blood and gore and the reality shows where we let it all hang out and bad is good, I found it refreshing to need my imagination for these questions.
It was also refreshing to have such a pleasant Sunday in New York with Mary Broome in 4 acts at the Mint Theater. I do love New York City on a Sunday.
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