In Elizabeth Baker's play Chains, currently in a strong production at the admirable Mint Theatre Company, Charley recognizes that he has much to be grateful for. He loves his wife Lily. He has a secure job in a terrible economy. He has a garden and a small but nice home. But his job is tedious and ill-paid; his garden is small with "filthy soil"; and he and Lily have had to take in a border to make ends meet. Still, Charley accepts his situation--albeit crabbily--until the border, Tennant, announces that he is moving to Australia. Friends and neighbors agree that Tennant is a "stupid ass" for giving up a steady job to try his luck on the other side of the world. But Charley too wants to break the invisible but oh-so-real chains that strangle his dreams and the dreams of many working class people.
|Laakan McHardy, Jeremy Beck
Photo: Todd Cerveris
Chains was written in 1910, but the story is sadly resonant today. When a character says, "Last week our firm wanted a man to do overtime work, and they don't pay too high a rate—I can tell you. They had five hundred and fifteen applications—five hundred and fifteen! Think of that!" he sounds like many job hunters today. Similarly, the whole idea that workers should be grateful merely to have work, however unfulfilling or awful, remains alive and well. And Charley being called a socialist because he thinks there should be another way to live--that's very 2022 as well.
|Brian Owen, Olivia Gilliatt, Peterson Townsend
Photo: Todd Cerveris
As always, the Mint production is first-class all the way. The performers are excellent: Jeremy Beck, Anthony Cochrane, Christopher Gerson, Olivia Gilliatt, Laakan McHardy, Ned Noyes, Brian Owen, Claire Saunders, Peterson Townsend, Amelia White, and Avery Whitted. While I love multicultural casts in general, in this show, I wish the performers had been of one ethnic group/race (not necessarily white). In most Shakespeare plays and many musicals, for example, race is incidental. But in a play about class in 1910, race is not incidental.
The production values are also, as always, superb: sets, John McDermott (the set changes are great fun); costumes, David Toser; lights, Paul Miller; sound, M. Florian Staab; props, Chris Fields.
Overall, Chains does well in making vivid the invisible chains of being poor; however, the play takes too long to make its points and could easily have been a more powerful one-act (it was originally a one-act, as it happens, but Baker was convinced to expand it). Baker's The Price of Thomas Scott, done by the Mint a few years ago, was also a bit flabby, but it hit harder and said more. (Review here.) I am intrigued to see Partnership, the third play in the Mints' Meet Miss Baker.