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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the August 13, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
In New York: `Daughter-in-Law’
The Daughter-in-Law" by D.H. Lawrence could be
called the classic trunk play. It remained unknown to all but sleuths
of dramatic literature until 1965 when the first complete edition
of Lawrence’s plays first saw light of publication. Most trunk plays
are not very good. This one is surprisingly good, if not great.
Londoners have already had the privilege of seeing this play that
Lawrence wrote in 1913 when he was still a schoolteacher in Croydon.
It was probably written just prior to his most famous novel, "Sons
and Lovers." It is a treat to see a rediscovered play that confronts
similar social issues as the novel. It has been given an attentive,
respectful production by the Mint Theater, under the caring direction
of Martin L. Platt. Platt deserves high praise, as does the excellent
company. The play is clearly motivated by the sociological underpinnings
that existed during the time of a major coal miners strike. But more
specifically, the play deals with the emotional and economic turmoil
within a mining family in a small Nottinghamshire mining town, similar
to the region where Lawrence grew up.
It had to be a chore for the actors to master, as well as they do,
the play’s dense Eastwood dialect that amazingly becomes easier to
understand as the play progresses (a program glossary is of great
help). Because of the fine acting, the extent to which the psychological
frailties of the characters are revealed, and the up-front juicy scandal
that gets things rolling, it is easy to prick up our ears to it.
Because Lawrence’s dramatic writing skill is so wonderfully in evidence,
we are as fascinated by the play’s unfamiliar vocabulary as we are
by the tension created by the two Mrs. Gascoynes. There is a dominating
mother in one home, and in the other home, an atypically (for the
time and place) educated and independent young wife.
One Mrs. G (Mikel Sarah Lambert), a miner’s widow whose silver-cord
nurturing has produced two sons with deep psychological problems,
more easily characterized by her youngest Joe (Peter Russo) as deeply
Oedipal. Minnie (Angela Reed), the other Mrs. G, has more middle-class
expectations, as she has been employed as a governess before her recent
marriage to the older son, Luther (Gareth Saxe). Her class and good
breeding are clearly exemplified by the simple neatness and prettiness
that marks her home, as well as by her tolerance and patience. She
must try to cope with Luther’s sullen, non-communicative crude ways.
The plot thickens when it is revealed by a neighbor, Mrs. Purdy (Jodie
Lynne McClintock), that her daughter is going to have Luther’s baby.
It may sound like the old corned beef and cabbage plot, but it is
stuffed with the kind of gritty, insightful writing that Lawrence
is known for. Lambert is terrific at hiding her (s)mothering behind
her protective instincts and her not-quite contained opinion of her
new daughter-in-law. Russo gives a poignant account of an emotionally
crippled grown man.
The play gets much of its juice from the fierce and troubling confrontations
between the manly but immature Luther, and the tender but resilient
Minnie. As the neighbor, McClintock puts the right "nobody’s fool"
edge on her long-winded visits. Credit the time and place atmospherics
to designers Bill Clarke (sets) and Jeff Nellis (lighting) and Holly
Poe Durbin (costumes). But I’ll give most of the credit for the "chuntering,
blortin, and bletherin" (taken from the glossary in program) to
Lawrence. Three stars. You won’t feel cheated.
— Simon Saltzman
New York, 212-315-0231. $30.
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