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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

The Daughter-in-Law Mint Theater, 311 West 43rd Street,

New York, 212-315-0231. $30.


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