By Lillian Hellman
Directed by J. R. Sullivan
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
The moral turpitude of those who “consume” is in the spotlight in Lillian Hellman’s 1936 “Days to Come” currently running at Mint Theater Company at Theatre Row’s Beckett Theatre. On the surface, Hellman’s second play focuses on the dispute between labor and management in the small town of Callom, Ohio where Andrew Rodman’s (willful but wimpish Larry Bull) family brush factory has been shuttered by a strike. Because Andrew has a close relationship with the workers, he would like to see the strike end; however, he cannot afford the increase in wages being demanded by those workers. His sister Cora (a whining and wistfully weak Mary Bacon) does not want the strike to end.
Beneath the surface of this unremarkable plot is the more dynamic storyline driven by Hellman’s complex characters and their authentic, relevant conflicts. Andrew is in financial trouble not because of the failure of his factory but because of his uncontrollable spending on his distant and disinterested wife Julie (a reserved and weak Janie Brookshire). The strike occurs not because his workers are asking for an unreasonable raise: the strike occurs because Andrew has lost his moral compass. Those around him (the “one-percent”) have also abandoned any values they once held. Betrayal, criminality, deceit, murder, gluttony, and prevarication abound, and these are the themes that resonate with the current socio-political environment.
The important themes of Lillian Hellman’s play and the rich, enduring questions it raises are unfortunately overshadowed by the production. Overall, the performances are weak, and the direction seems uneven. Hellman’s characters in “Days to Come” are meant to be well-rounded, strong, and authentic. Only Chris Henry Coffey and Kim Martin-Cotton bring those significant attributes to their characters Thomas Firth and Hannah (respectively).
Mr. Sullivan’s cast is fully capable of delivering engaging and believable performances. Why most of the characters become caricatures is puzzling and problematic. Hellman’s grit requires real characters: real thugs (Dan Daily, Geoffrey Allen Murphy and Evan Zes) not cartoon thugs; a truly lost and somewhat damaged wife (Janie Brookshire) not an indecisive and cloying spouse; a deceitful and despicable best friend and attorney (Ted Deasy) not just an arrogant sycophant; a truly decisive and forceful union representative (Roderick Hill) not a hesitant and somewhat fearful bureaucrat.
It is Hannah the cook and Lucy (a servile but enlightened Betsy Hogg) the maid who sacrifice their wages and “steal” food from the Rodman larder to support the striking workers and their hungry families. Strong women with deep convictions. Cora, on the other hand, will not sacrifice her breakfast in the living room where she has “had it for thirty years.” Sam Wilkie (Dan Daily) the strikebreaker is “like the English” and “eats big in the mornings.” Moral strength battles moral depravity in Lillian Hellman’s “Days to Come.”
That battle of the Titans gets lost in the Mint Theater production of her play and (despite Harry Feiner’s elegant set and Andrea Varga’s splendid period costumes) falls flat. The Mint’s mission to produce “worthwhile plays from the past that have been lost or forgotten” is one of the most important goals of our Off-Broadway theatre companies and must be supported and we await the upcoming production of this valuable company.