Not seen in New York in almost a century, Stanley Houghton’s British classic comedy drama explodes the double standard in a powerful Mint Theater production.
Hindle is a fictional mill town in Lancashire, England, not too far from Manchester. In the Industrial Era, mills shut down for a week giving its employees a vacation called Wakes Week, often running into a Monday Bank Holiday (like our legal holidays) which added a day to the time off. Workers often went off to a seaside resort or a similar spa for a much needed change of pace. Fanny Hawthorn has gone with her friend Mary Hollins to Blackpool, a seaside resort. There she and Mary have met Alan Jeffcote, son of her wealthy employer at the Daisy Bank Mill, traveling in his father’s car with his friend George Ramsbottom. Fanny and Alan have then gone off on an intimate weekend of their own, with Mary and George keeping their secret.
Unfortunately, Mary has an accident and her father and Christopher Hawthorn, Fanny’s father, have gone to Blackpool only to find that Fanny is not there. Confronted with this knowledge on her delayed return, Fanny admits to her parents that she has spent the weekend with Alan. Mrs. Hawthorn demands that Alan make an honest woman of her. The only problem is that the wastrel Alan is engaged to Beatrice Farrar, daughter of the mayor, and the second wealthiest man in town after Jeffcote.
Alan’s father Nathaniel, a friend of Christopher Hawthorn since boyhood, takes the same position and threatens to cut off his son without a penny unless he marries Fanny. However, his snobbish wife, taking her son’s side, sees this as a comedown, throwing away Alan’s chances in life, to marry one of the mill’s employees. And his parents’ fondest hope has been that one day Alan will unite Sir Timothy Farrar’s mill with their own, and eventually run for a seat in Parliament. A meeting comes about with all the parties including the young people. However, their parents have not reckoned with either Beatrice or Fanny who are New Women and have minds of their own.
The Mint Theater Company productions are always impeccably cast and this is no exception. As Alan’s father and Hawthorn’s employer, once his youthful pal, Hogan as the upright, sardonic Jeffcote grounds the play enormously. Jeremy Beck’s Alan is the weak, spoiled scion who can talk to his fiancée of the “awfulness of having another girl in my arms and wanting you,” without seeing the falseness of such a statement. Beautiful blonde Emma Geer’s Beatrice is both poised and aristocratic, able to ask with a straight face, “Could you have forgiven me if I had done the same as you?”, knowing perfectly well the answer Alan would give her. As the advanced modern woman who wants her equal rights with the men, beautiful brunette Rebecca Noelle Brinkley comes into her own in the memorable last scene in which she finally gets to explain her view of things as well as her plans for her future. Accepted morality will never be the same again.
Jill Tanner, who has turned in fine work in the Mint’s revivals of A Day by the Sea, A Picture of Autumn and Mary Broome, subtly demonstrates the pervasiveness of the double standard among women who had climbed the social ladder. Brian Reddy’s Sir Timothy Farrar is an amusing portrait of a well-do-to cad who only looks at things as they apply to him – and his pocketbook. Sandra Shipley as Fanny’s conventional mother makes it clear who wears the pants in the Hawthorn family, while Ken Marks is solid as the father who cannot deal with Fanny’s modern ideas, but wants the best for his daughter. Sara Carolynn Kennedy makes the Jeffcotes’ maid Ada into a bumbling, frightened young woman trying to maintain her place at the lowest rung of the social ladder.
Charles Morgan’s vaulted setting serves well for the kitchen of the weavers’ cottage as well as the breakfast-room of their wealthy employers when the set is opened up in the second scene. Sam Fleming’s costumes immediately establish the economic and social divide between the three families. Jane Shaw’s sound effects beautifully capture the summer storm in the opening scene while her original music is redolent of the palm court era. The lighting by Christian DeAngelis creates the cozy atmosphere around the two tables in the different homes as well as well as the darkness as evening falls on the gas light era. Gerard Kelly is responsible for the hair and wig design that is typical of the period.
Stanley Houghton’s once controversial Hindle Wakes explodes everything you have ever been taught about the double standard and the place of women in society. The irrefutable logic of the characters in this play can only leave you with one conclusion. Gus Kaikkonen’s superb production for the Mint Theater Company restores this forgotten play to its rightful place in British drama. Had the playwright not died prematurely the year after Hindle Wakes’ premiere, the play would most likely have not fallen into an almost 100 year eclipse. Ironically, the Me-Too movement reminds us that the philosophy that “boys will be boys” is both immoral and indefensible.
Hindle Wakes (through February 17, 2018)
Mint Theater Company
Clurman Theatre@Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.minttheater.org
Running time: two hours and ten minutes with one intermission
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