Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Day By the Sea

Perhaps it's time for me to make a template for my reviews of Mint Theater Company productions:
Thanks once again to the invaluable Mint for reintroducing the world to yet another fabulous play, __________, which was beautifully directed by __________, with excellent acting by the whole cast (particularly _________, _________, and _________), and gorgeous scenery (by _________) and costumes (by ___________). 
But, no, each of the Mint's gems deserves its own accolades, and anyway, it's a pleasure to write a glowing review. (I know that some reviewers have more fun writing pans; I don't.)

Julian Elfer, Katie Firth
Photo: Richard Termine
N.C. Hunter's rich and moving play, A Day by the Sea, is a Chekovian exploration of people dealing with stormy emotional crossroads on a mild summer day. It starts slowly and quietly, and it took a while for my 21st century brain to gear down to mid-20th century pacing.

The transition was well worth it, as the rest of the evening was a delight. Well, delight is perhaps the wrong word. As I said, A Day by the Sea is Chekovian. But the writing, direction, and acting are, nevertheless, delightful.

Julian, a diplomat whose career has stalled, is visiting his mother Laura at her lovely country home. The elderly David lives there too, and his caregiver is Dr. Farley, who's grateful that his one patient doesn't interfere with his drinking. To Julian's surprise, Frances Farrar is also visiting. Frances was taken in by his parents when she was quite young, and she and Julian grew up together. Now, however, she is a woman with a "reputation." Miss Mathieson, nanny to Frances' children, is sad her time with them will soon end.

Not much occurs, and yet lives change. We learn that Miss Mathieson has a soft spot for the alcoholic doctor. Laura nudges Julian in traditional--and funny--interfering-mother mode. Frances talks to Laura about the mistakes that led to her "bad repute." Julian gets unexpected news about his diplomatic post. And everyone goes to the beach.

In its quiet, gentle way, A Day at the Beach offers its characters second chances; how they respond is the heart of the play.

And, yes, it is beautifully directed, by Austin Pendleton. And, yes, the cast is terrific, particularly Julian Elfer, who gives us an extremely intelligent yet frequently dense Julian; Katie Firth as Frances, who shows us a woman living a calm outer life with a roiling inner one; and Jill Tanner as Laura, who subtly reveals the fears and disappointments that have shaped her life and personality. The set (Charles Morgan) and costumes (Martha Hally) are indeed gorgeous, and more importantly, they are perfectly apt.

If you've seen plays at the Mint, you already know the quality of work they produce. If you haven't, what are you waiting for? You're missing a New York City jewel.

Wendy Caster
(5th row, press ticket)

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