Monday, September 10, 2012

Mary Broome

Janie Brookshire, Roderick Hill
Photo: Carol Rosegg
1911. The upper-crust Timbrells gather in the drawing room to discuss the wedding of Edgar, the oldest brother, to his beloved Sheila. As always, ne'er-do-well younger brother Leonard annoys everyone with his sarcasm and condescension. Various family members get into arguments that have clearly been argued before. The evening seems destined to continue along this path until the maid, Mary Broome, quietly announces that she is pregnant. Leonard is the father.

Most of what happens next in Allan Monkhouse's 1911 comedy-drama will surprise few people in the audience, but that doesn't mean that the play isn't worth seeing. It's never boring, and it circles around, if never quite lands on, some astute insights. It's almost as though Monkhouse was dimly aware of human psychology, feminism, and changing societal mores, but didn't quite know what to do with these juicy concepts.

The Mint Theater Company's production of Mary Broome is handsome and smooth. The drawing room is festooned with family portraits that give a strong sense of a family rooted in years of expectations and limitations (although the decision to change them as the play progresses is inappropriately cartoony). The costumes are attractive and effective. The direction, by Jonathan Bank, is solid, except for the major misstep of casting Roderick Hill as Leonard. Leonard is an obnoxious character who needs to be played with charm and/or complexity to be anything other than an ongoing irritant. And if Leonard is flat, as he is in Hill's portrayal, then the whole play is deflated.  Janie Brookshire, on the other hand, does well at giving Mary Broome three dimensions.

It's fascinating to compare today's plays of those of 100 years ago. The pressure on playwrights to keep casts small has changed contemporary writing, as has the trend toward 90 minutes, no intermission. The result is streamlined plays with the need to make every word count. The more meandering plays of yesteryear seem almost profligate in comparison, taking their time and including characters that are not central to the story. One of the many reasons that the Mint is invaluable is the opportunity to see first-hand how the shape of theatre has evolved over the years.

(fifth row center, press ticket)

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