Sunday, March 01, 2015

Fashions for Men

Bravo to the Mint!

Once again, the Mint has revived and revitalized a neglected play with respect, creativity, fine acting, excellent direction, and knockout scenery and costumes. This time around it is Fashions for Men, by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár, author of Lilliom (turned by Rodgers and Hammerstein into Carousel), The Guardsman (Lunt and Fontanne starred in the original Broadway production and the movie) , and The Play's the Thing (seen periodically in New York in the adaptation by P. G. Wodehouse).

Fashions for Men opens in a Hungarian habadashery shop owned and operated by Peter Juhász. Juhász is so kind that he cannot bear to stop offering credit to a poor aristocrat who will never pay him back, even though the shop is having financial problems. Also working at the shop are Juhász's wife Adele and his friend Oscar, who love him dearly--but not as dearly as they love each other. We also meet a fiercely loyal clerk who has worked for Juhász for years, another employee who wants desperately to be rich, the much older count who loves her, and an array of customers. The plot is in some ways predictable and in others surprising, but always engaging and satisfying.

A note from the artistic director says:
...I have rewritten some of the dialogue. I freshened it up, intending to make it ... more accurate. I enlisted the help of ... Molnár's great grandson, [who] would provide me with a quick and scrupulously faithful version of any passage I thought was in need of improvement or elucidation.
I don't know how true the script is to the original (for example, was Molnár really that blasé about homosexuality?), but I do know that it is effective and extremely entertaining. Would Molnár have approved? I don't know. But the audience last night certainly did!

The director's contribution to a show is often unclear, but not in this case. David McCallum has done a wonderful job. First of all, everyone is believable in the time and place of the show, which unfortunately is not a given in period pieces. McCallum makes sure that even walk-on characters have personality and presence, and his use of the stage is attractive and lively. Overall, McCallum makes absolutely real Juhász's shop and the people in it. I would love to shop there.

The world of this play is enhanced by Daniel Zimmerman's gorgeous set, Martha Hally's beautiful costumes, and Joshua Yocom's perfect props. When the curtain went up, there were murmurs of approval and applause, much deserved. The Mint can't have all that much money, but the design looks like a million bucks. (Lights are by Eric Southern, original music and sound are by Jane Shaw, and wigs and hair are by Robert-Charles Vallance. All contribute mightily.)

The cast is led by Joe Delafield. His Juhász is not reflexively nice, and it is his struggle that makes him real and the play interesting. The cast on a whole is top notch: Kurt Rhoads, Jeremy Lawrence, Rachel Napoleon, John Tufts, Annie Purcell, Jill Tanner, Mark Bedard, Michael Schantz, John Seidman, Maren Searle, and Gabra Zackman.

This is a lovely evening in the theatre. My one complaint, and it is a silly one, is that every time the staff of the store said goodbye to a customer, I wanted them to sing, "Thank you, madam. Please call again. Do call again, madam."

(fifth row, press ticket)


Anonymous said...

I concur--it's a beautiful production of a charming play. You rightfully praise the sets and costumes, and the cast is delightful. But as of today the Times hasn't reviewed it. Didn't it open March 1st?

Wendy Caster said...

Yes, March 1st it was.

I have no idea how the Times decides what to review, but it's a pity it's not getting the word out on this gem.

Cameron Kelsall said...

The Times review finally appeared today, and it's not positive:

Wendy Caster said...

The show deserves so much better!

Cameron Kelsall said...

I was surprised. I haven't seen the production, but the consensus among people I know who have has been universally positive.