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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
And so it did for Stanley Houghton. With a campaign to give the vote to women over age 30 just getting under way, Houghton saw such a situation as a chance to create a new kind of heroine — a young mill worker who opts to enjoy an occasional fling, just like the men who still ruled and dominated the rigid milieu more than ten years into the 20th Century.
The play Houghton wrote to give voice to such a convention defying character was Hindle Wakes. The first part of the title refers to the Lancashire mill town in which the play is set. The title's other half refers to the religious festival that evolved into a secular holiday for the area's various factory workers. It is this festival the playwright uses to have his heroine, Fanny Hawthorn (Rebecca Noelle Brinkley), a weaver at Hindle's Jeffcote Mill, leave her co-workers for a sexual liaison. Having her not go off with another mill worker but the mill owner's son, Alan Jeffcote (Jeremy Beck), intensifies the drama of Fanny's detour from accepted mores.
Of course, in today's sexually permissive society and with women's empowerment long past its revolutionary new movement stage, a play revolving around an illicit weekend may seem hopelessly dated. But Houghton was not a writer to settle for a formulaic sin-suffer-repent plot. And the Mint has an infallible instinct for re-dicovering plays that could engage modern theater goers by being at once true to their time and place, and yet come off remarkably relevant. Hindle Wakes touches on issues of marriage, class and politics as well as sexual freedom — and once again confirms the Mint's ability to sniff out worthy plays for its rescue mission
Under the sure-footed direction of Gus Kaikonen, who helmed such memorable Mint re-discoveries as The Voysey Inheritance & Doctor Knock , each member of the cast — even, Ada the maid (Sara Carolynn Kennedy) — gets to make the most of his or her character's real and very human personality traits. Rebecca Noelle Brinkley as Fanny is a convincingly feisty early feminist and we wouldn't have a play without her character. However, it's the older characters who are integral to what happens when Fanny and Alan's tryst is no longer their secret. It's they who bring out the humor and make this more than a period drama with a dash of feminism.
Here's how the scenario introduces all the contributors to Hindle Wakes' pleasures and thematic nuances: The first of Act One's three scenes takes us to the kitchen of Fanny Hawthorn's home, where her parents (Sandra Shipley and Ken Marks) are anxiously awaiting her return from the Wakes holiday. Their unease about what is delaying her sets up the potential brouhaha about what she's been up to. By the time Fanny shows up, they have their unwelcome answer — and we know a lot more about them and their relationship with the Jeffcotes (Jill Tanner and Jonathan Hogan) who, though also from working class backgrounds, now own the mill where both Timothy and Fanny work.
Mr. Kaikonen deftly and with minimal fuss moves the next two scenes to the Jeffcote home. Like the Hawthorns, the Jeffcotes are a close knit couple and yet not quite on the same page in their reaction to news about son Alan's sexual misbehavior. As Fanny doesn't appear until well into that scene, Alan too arrives late in the Jeffcote breakfast room.
Actually the actors playing the two sets of parents really are the production's standouts. While Mr. Houghton develops his plot without turning anyone into a villain, only Fanny seems to really care deeply about the tragedy that caused the revelation about her adventure.
Nathaniel Jeffcote is an interesting stand-in for those in this country who have realized the dream of great wealth and power. Hogan manages to be both funny, admirably honorable but not without flaws such as self-glorification — the latter most amusingly evident in his admitting why he bought his son the fancy car (the one in which he carried off Fanny): Why did I buy a motor-car? Not because I wanted to go motoring. I hate it. I bought it so that people could see Alan driving about in it, and say, "There's Jeffcote's lad in his new car. It cost five hundred quid."
It's Jeffcote's honorable side that propels the way the discovered tryst will play out. It also brings on two more characters, Sir Timothy Farrar (Brian Reddy), another rags-to-riches Hindle man, and his the daughter Beatrice (Emma Geer) who happens to be engaged to Alan.
If Alan were Sir Timothy's son and Beatrice Jeffcote's daughter, nothing could interfere with the engagement. Reddy's Sir Timothy is another wonderful character, a vulgarian who's become a politician likely to remind the audience of all too many contemporary counterparts.
Though Beatrice would obviously better fit Nathanial Jeffcote's grand ambitions for his company's future, his sense of honor and acceptance of the prevailing moral code has him insist on an Alan-Fanny union. But while neither Mrs. Jeffcote or Alan are happy about Jeffcote's dictum, he is the one who "wears the britches" and so a nuptial seems inevitable.
Emma Greer's Beatrice is the least fully developed character. But then, what ultimately happens is all up to our pretty and spirited sinner. How it all plays out will hardly come as a big surprise, but watching how it happens is sure to keep you engaged.
As usual with a Mint production, a huge nod to the crafts team. Amy Stoller has helped the actors, especially Sandra Shipley, to achieve that rare feat of speaking in an authentic Lancashire lingo and yet being easy to understand. Charles Morgan's scenic design makes for a fluid transition between the Hawthorn and Jeffcote residences. Thanks to sound and lighting designers Jane Shaw and Christian DeAngelis the tension in the Winthrop kitchen is aptly supported by the stormy weather raging outside.
As Amy Stoller concludes in her informative program notes, "perhaps the most 'insider' aspect of Hindle Wakes is its title." But, as she quickly and correctly adds, "It's a name as redolent of the times as State Fair.
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Hindle Wakes by Stanley Houghton
Directed by Gus Kaikkonen
Cast: Jeremy Beck (Alan Jeffcote), Rebecca Noelle Brinkley (Fanny Hawthorn), Emma Geer (Beatrice Farrar), Jonathan Hogan (Jonathan Jeffcote), Sara Carolynn Kennedy (Ada), Ken Marks (Christopher Hawthorn), Brian Reddy (Sir Timothy Farrar), Sandra Shipley (Mrs. Hawthorn), Jill Tanner (Mrs. Jeffcote))
Scenic design by Charles Morgan
Costume design by Sam Fleming
Lighting design by Christian DeAngelis
Sound design and original music by Jane Shaw
Props: Joshua Cogum
Dialects & Dramaturgy: Amy Stoller
Hair & Wigs: Gerard Kelly
Stage Manager:Elizabeth Ann Goodman
Running time: 2 1/2 hours including 1 intermission
Mint Theater at the Clurman Theater 410 West 42nd Street 212-239-6200
From 12/23/17; opening 1/18/18; closing 2/17/08
Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30pm with matinees Saturday & Sunday at 2pm. Wednesday Matinees on 1/17 and 2/14 at 2pm.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 1/15/18 press preview
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