Tuesday, September 11, 2012

THEATER: Mary Broome

For my first review back after an unusually long "vacation," and for a show being produced by the normally wonderful Mint Theater Company, I wish I had more positive things to write. But this dull, uninspiring, and often muddled revival of 1911's Mary Broome should have been swept back into the closet it was buried in. The supposedly scandalous "upstairs/downstairs" relationship between feckless, prodigal Leonard Timbrell (Roderick Hill) and the except-for-this-one-instance-entirely-wholesome maid Mary Broome (Janie Brookshire) will be relevant only to those most die-hard Downton Abbey fans. Even then, playwright Allan Monkhouse's poorly sketched scenarios -- almost all of which leave the action offstage -- are more likely to bore than titillate, especially with their monotonous lessons on propriety, as blustered by Leonard's father, Edward (Graeme Malcolm), and the cloyingly snobbish (and heartless) portrayals of Leonard's siblings, Ada and Edgar (Katie Fabel and Rod Brogan), to say nothing of his soon-to-be sister-in-law, Sheila Ray (Julie Jesneck).

The insubstantial plot is only worsened by Jonathan Bank's direction, which races so quickly through each act (the entire production, with intermission, is well under two hours) that even the cast trips up on their arguments. Roger Hanna's blatant set makes little sense either: while the family portraits that limn the stage may fit the pomp and circumstance of the first two acts, the choice to reverse them in the third (just as the family has turned their back on Leonard, so have the people in the paintings) is a distractingly cheap joke, as the portraits have no place in Mary's shabby home. The same goes for the fourth and final act, which changes the pictures again: symbolic or not, it's a counterproductive embellishment, one that takes away from the gravity of Mary's loss. Monkhouse is already all over the place -- just look at the aimlessly comedic introduction of Mary's parents in Act III (Jill Tanner and the delightful understudy, Peter Cormican) -- Bank can't afford to also meander. 

All this might hold up if at least the characters changed, but either the actors are incapable of shifting or the script itself (the more likely culprit) shortchanges them of any real growth. Roderick Hill's Leonard is a fast-talking, amoral rascal: he does a fine, albeit increasingly bland and irksome, job of it. Janie Brookshire's Mary, on the other hand, is all too accommodating, matter-of-factly marrying Leonard after his father makes him "do the right thing" by the pregnant maid ("Well, I want to marry someone"), just as calmly allowing him to run off and neglect their child, and ultimately not even blaming him for their child's death. Instead, she abruptly announces that she's taking off with a milkman: this is neither a drama nor a comedy, it's a theatrical checklist. Finally, there's Leonard's mother, Mrs. Timbrell (Kristin Griffith), whom Leonard keeps insisting is exactly like him -- a wild, rebellious creature. If only. Mary Broome is in dire need of a live wire; instead, it's stuck with stiff, dry broom thistles. 

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