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Days to Come

Fascinating revival of the forgotten, second play by Lillian Hellman gets an engrossing Mint Theater Company production but fails to solve the play’s problems.

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Larry Bull, Janie Brookshire and Ted Deasy in a scene from the Mint Theater Company’s revival of Lillian Hellman’s “Days to Come” (Photo credit: Todd Cerveris)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Failures by major playwrights can be as interesting as their successes, if not more so, showing us the working of their craft and their beliefs and preoccupations. Lillian Hellman’s biggest failure, her 1936 strike drama, Days to Come, is one of those plays and has previously been revived only once before in 1972. The Mint Theater Company which specializes in rediscovering worthy and forgotten plays from the past is giving this rarely seen drama an outing in a fascinating production by J.R. Sullivan which is always engrossing but fails to solve the play’s problems.

In summary, Hellman’s overheated drama sounds like a Clifford Odets play but where his plays are tightly constructed, this one is all over the place with each character offering a new plot line. It is not so much that the play is unfocused but that there are too many stories, the error of novice playwrights who think they have to get everything in the first time around. While Hellman took a four-week research trip to the Midwest and spent eight months on the writing, the play still seems to have a great deal of  undigested material. She could have taken lessons from British author John Galsworthy who in such plays as Strife, Justice, Loyalties, The Silver Box and The Skin Game demonstrated how to organize such material concerning the conflict between personal morality and self-interest. Ironically, Hellman was to have greater success after this play with The Little Foxes and Watch on the Rhine when she returned to the Ibsenite well-made play formula while managing to keep hold of her righteous indignation.

Ted Deasy, Dan Daily, Evan Zes and Geoffrey Allen Murphy in a scene from the Mint Theater Company’s revival of Lillian Hellman’s “Days to Come” (Photo credit: Todd Cerveris)

Days to Come is set in the dark days of the Depression in Callom, Ohio, a fictional small factory town outside of Cleveland, where a strike has been on for three weeks at the Rodman Brush factory. While the Rodmans and their employees are friends who have grown up together, the failing fortunes of the factory have forced owner Andrew Rodman to cut wages to a level where his employees say they can’t live. The union has brought in a savvy, professional organizer Leo Whalen from outside. Andrew’s lawyer Henry Ellicott has convinced him to hire strikebreakers under shady, slick organizer Sam Wilkie to help get the factory going again. However, the naïve Andrew does not realize that these man are actual thugs and strong arm men who have come to cause trouble and violence. Of course, that violence eventually breaks out no matter how hard Whalen tries to keep the union out of the fray.

If this were all the play was about, there might be a compelling labor-management story here. But Hellman has something else in mind: she wants to also show the emptiness of the upper middle class: Andrew’s bored wife Julie has not only spent vast sums he does not have, but is out every night seeking companionship to fill her lonely heart. Andrew’s nagging, shrewish sister Cora who owns half of the factory refuses to take a cut in her income, blaming Andrew for the fix they are in.

Their too outspoken cook and housekeeper Hannah knows all of the skeletons in the Rodmans’ closet and can’t be fired. Aside from the fact that Henry has loaned Andrew so much money that he actually owns the factory, he has been having an affair with Julie which Andrew does not know about. And to complicate things further, Tom Firth, the head of the union with whom Andrew must negotiate is an old childhood friend of Andrew’s.

Evan Zes, Mary Bacon and Geoffrey Allen Murphy in a scene from the Mint Theater Company’s revival of Lillian Hellman’s “Days to Come” (Photo credit: Todd Cerveris)

Sullivan has been unable to decide on the tone or style of the play so that some actors seem miscast and others misdirected. Janie Brookshire’s Julie, though beautiful enough to be the object of many men’s desires, looks too young to be the long married wife of Andrew, while Larry Bell’s Andrew is too weak and naïve to be believed, though that is mainly the fault of the writing. As the conniving and cunning lawyer Henry, Ted Deasy is almost a villain out of a melodrama. Mary Bacon makes the tart tongued Cora most unpleasant without showing us the hurt underneath, a woman of inherited wealth with nothing to do while her brother makes all the decisions in the family business from which she is excluded. The sarcasm of Kim Martin-Cotten’s Hannah seems to go right over the heads of her employers.

The characters on the other side of the tracks are equally problematic. Dan Daily as the wily organizer of the strikebreakers has the most subtle and successful style, while his henchmen played by Geoffrey Allen Murphy and Evan Zes are comic thugs out of a bad 1930’s Warner Brothers movie. Roderick Hill as the all-knowing union organizer seems to be out of another play entirely, while Chris Henry Coffey as the compassionate union leader is too good to be true. Ironically, the person Hellman should have turned to for help in creating these characters was her own partner Dashiell Hammett, the greatest American writer of detective fiction, who famously guided her on her first success, The Children’s Hour, as described in her memoir Pentimento and later depicted in the film Julia.

Chris Henry Coffey, Ted Deasy and Roderick Hill in a scene from the Mint Theater Company’s revival of Lillian Hellman’s “Days to Come” (Photo credit: Todd Cerveris)

Harry Feiner’s impressive living room setting for the Rodman mansion makes the wrong statement as it is difficult to tell if it is made up of expensive new items or things left over from the Rodman’s parents. The costumes by Andrea Varga get some things right, and some things wrong. Although we are told that Julie has spent lavishly on her clothes, the dresses she wears look dowdy, although they are authentically thirties. Andrew’s comfortable, lived-in sweater gives entirely the wrong impression, while Henry’s sophisticated double-breasted suits do not seem to go with his personality. Christian DeAngelis’ suitable lighting is effective without being elegant in itself. Longtime Mint collaborator, Jane Shaw is responsible for the appropriate sound effects.

Days to Come fills in the gap in Hellman’s career between her first play, the controversial The Children’s Hour, and the immediate successors, the hugely commercial hit and often revived, The Little Foxes and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award-winning Watch on the Rhine. Completists will want to see this play which has not been seen in New York for over 40 years. The Mint Theater Company’s revival of Days to Come is an example of a worthy, lost play whose problems haven’t yet been solved – if they ever will. See it now as there probably will not be another chance anytime soon. The Mint is to be applauded for taking a chance on this rarely seen, but estimable failure. You will not be bored but you may not be convinced.

Days to Come (extended to October 6, 2018)

Mint Theater Company

Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row

For tickets, call 212-947-8844 or visit http://www.minttheater.org

Running time: two hours and 35 minutes including one intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (545 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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