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A CurtainUp Review
Miss Lulu Bett
By Elyse Sommer
Hurrah . . . again. The Mint Theater has gone on another rescue expedition to that Great Beyond that's home to long forgotten plays. Like Alison's House, Miss Lulu Bett is a Pulitzer Prize winner, in fact, the first ever by a woman. Lulu , has been given the usual "Mint treatment"" -- a handsome staging that makes the most of the theater's small playing area with an old-fashioned sized cast (in this case, 9 actors). While not quite as timely and sparkling as the last Mint occupant, The Voysey Inheritance (linked below), Miss Lulu Bett has considerable assets.
First and foremost, there's Angela Reed's poignant interpretation of the thirty-four-year-old spinster (the time is 1920 when this was a standard issue label for unmarried women). It's a pleasure to watch Ms. Reed, who in looks and manners resembles Meryl Streep, take Lulu through three emotional stages: as quietly resentful but resigned household drudge in the home of her sister Ina (Valerie Leonard) and her husband Dwight (Ed Sala) . . . an exultant participant in the game of love prompted by a visit from Dwight's long absent brother Ninian (Peter Davis) . . . and finally, as an independent woman who will no longer settle for the crumbs of her brother-in-law's table and what's more, won't grab any male who'll have her.
Miss Lulu Bett is also interesting for being in the forefront of literature that departed from the idealized picture of the small midwestern town as a peaceful place inhabited by happy, sharing, loving "folks." The Deacons reflect the general narrowness of the town of Warbleton in which they live. It is a narrow place filled with tension, gossip and meanness. The smug Dwight Deacon and his socially ambitious, unable to cope wife are products of this environment. The fact that Gale rewrote the original ending to appease public complaints about her play's immorality, shows that the village mentality was everywhere and that the author, unlike Lulu, did not display the courage of her convictions. Happily the current production has restored the more powerful ending. (In case you wonder what all the fuss was about -- the Ninian-Lulu romance is clouded by bigamy. In her rewrite, Gale brings Ninian back, unencumbered which clears Lulu of the adultery charge but alas scuttles her final declaration of independence).
While Angela Reed's Lulu is the evening's grandest performance, the supporting players all fully inhabit their roles. Ed Sala is particularly good. He plays the odious Dwight Deacon with such zest that you might be inclined to hiss rather than applaud him. Eleven-year-old, Melissa O'Malley is equally convincing as his hyperactive spoiled brat of a daughter who nevertheless shows just enough signs of a potentially nice kid inside those patent leather shoes.
James B. Nicola directs at a leisurely but never dull pace. Vicki R. Davis has once again created a simple but effective set. I think Zona Gale would be pleased to hear Lulu speak the lines she intended for her: "I thought I wanted someone of my own -- but maybe it was just myself I wanted."
Links to previous Mint Theater plays reviewed by CurtainUp
The Voysey Inheritance
August Snowand Night Dance