By Stanford Friedman
Lillian Hellman’s first two hits were The Children’s Hour in 1934 and The Little Foxes in 1939. But, in between, there was a clunker. Days to Come ran for just seven performances in its 1936 Broadway premiere, the victim of a poorly conceived staging where the actors, as Hellman later wrote, “moved as figurines in the dream of a frightened child.” This type of play is perfect fodder for The Mint Theater, with its mission to revive lost works that deserve another chance. Thus, in this earnest production, director J.R. Sullivan and his large cast breathe new life into a depression era tale of unrequited love amid theories of economics. Boasting top notch production values and veteran actors, it is highly watchable, if not highly relatable. And that is odd since there are many familiar elements in the mix, including the financial struggles of an American factory, the perils of gun ownership, and a chief whose wife doesn’t love him and whose lawyer betrays him. Still, getting an 82-year-old play to resonate is a tough trick and, here, the melodramatic turns and existential crises of the night ultimately keep us at a distance.
Days to Come tells an Upstairs, Downstairs story but minus the staircase. Nearly all the action occurs in the well-appointed living room of Andrew Rodman and his sister Cora (Larry Bull and Mary Bacon), inheritors of a brush making factory in a small Ohio town. While Cora flaunts her status and Andrew frets over his workers who are striking for union wages, the room is trafficked by a broad assortment of friends and foes. Their two servants, Hannah and Lucy (Kim Martin-Cotten and Betsy Hogg), both have chips on their shoulder. Andrew’s wife, Julie (Janie Brookshire), is desperate for a way out but not desperate enough to take it from Andrew’s attorney, Mr. Ellicot (Ted Deasy). Leo Whalen (Roderick Hill) is a sensitive union organizer trying to do right by Andrew’s employees, including the even more sensitive Tom Firth (Chris Henry Coffey). And Sam Wilkie (Dan Daily) is a two-faced union buster brought in by Andrew to end the strike. Wilkie will accomplish this by employing a crew of scabs and henchmen including Mossie Dowel and Joe Easter (Geoffrey Allen Murphy and Evan Zes), two gangsters that seem like escapees from a jailhouse production of Guys and Dolls.
Except for an oft used phone whose coiled cord must have been beamed in from the 1960’s, Harry Feiner’s scenic design, and Joshua Yocom’s props, are a period perfect thing of beauty. And within its walls there are so many characters in such close proximity, yet so much loneliness. Cora, described by Andrew as less than well, but who by today’s standards could be considered “on the spectrum,” is on her way to spinsterhood, given her quirky habits and penchant for blatant truth-telling. Ms. Bacon gives her a skittishness that keeps us happily on edge. Andrew is quietly desperate, hopelessly naive and on the verge of losing everything. Mr. Bull’s sympathetic performance makes us like Andrew perhaps more than we should. Wilkie’s tough loner persona is enhanced by the fact that Mr. Daily looks and acts like that 1930’s belligerent kingpin, W.C. Fields. And when the pretty Julie and the handsome Leo Whalen take stock of each other, it is a study in mutual despair. Ms. Brookshire and Mr. Hill pull off the neat trick of being self absorbed while sharing a scene without stealing focus. Indeed, the collective weight of everyone’s personal problems overshadow the play’s two murders and overwhelm its labor strife subplot. Mr. Sullivan’s assured direction shows this to be, for better or worse, a feature of the script, not a bug.
Days to Come – By Lillian Hellman; directed by J.R. Sullivan
WITH: Mary Bacon (Cora), Janie Brookshire (Julie Rodman), Larry Bull (Andrew Rodman), Chris Henry Coffey (Thomas Firth), Dan Daily (Sam Wilkie), Ted Deasy (Henry Ellicott), Roderick Hill (Leo Whalen), Betsy Hogg (Lucy), Kim Martin-Cotten (Hannah), Geoffrey Allen Murphy (Mossie Dowel), and Evan Zes (Joe Easter).
Andrea Varga, costume designer; Harry Feiner, scenic designer; Christian DeAngelis, lighting designer; Jane Shaw, sound design and original music; Joshua Yocom, props; Kristi Hess, stage manager. The Mint Theater Company at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd St. http://minttheater.org, 212-239-6200. Through October 6. Running time: 2 hours.