THE NEW YORK TIMES
WITH A SERVANT'S PREGNANCY COMES A MAN'S CHUTE FROM HIGH SOCIETY
September 23, 2012
Class conflict gets a workout in the Mint Theater Company’s lively, penetrating revival of “Mary Broome,” the troupe’s latest invigoration of a largely forgotten work. The play’s author, Allan Monkhouse (1858-1936), also a novelist and critic, was known for his acerbic dissections of the English bourgeoisie. “Mary Broome” — a comedy that first appeared in Manchester in 1911 and was last staged in Manhattan in 1919, at the Neighborhood Playhouse on Grand Street — cuts right to its heart.
The mildly unctuous but employed Edgar Timbrell (Rod Brogan), of the prosperous Timbrell clan, is preparing to wed Sheila Ray (Julie Jesneck) when their thunder is stolen by Edgar’s brother, Leonard (Roderick Hill), a clever if feckless layabout. A photograph that has surfaced in a servant’s quarters prompts the revelation that Leonard, who is paid monthly to stay out of the family business, has had an affair with the housemaid, Mary Broome (Janie Brookshire). Mary, in turn, announces she is pregnant.
Edgar and Sheila, accustomed to — if still offended by — Leonard’s excesses, are mortified by his transgression, as much for its economic miscegenation as its impiety. Edward Timbrell (Graeme Malcolm), the family’s imperious patriarch, is livid. (To his credit he doesn’t blame Mary.) He threatens to revoke Leonard’s stipend if he doesn’t marry her.
Leonard accedes to Edward’s wishes but can’t stop delivering witty barbs about religion and prudishness, among other subjects. (“He makes fun of all the wrong things,” Sheila says.) He says that he and Mary are “rather on show here,” at a dinner party. “This is a social experiment.” His flippancy eventually proves too much for Edward, who cuts the couple off. Leonard has his first taste of poverty and real responsibility. Mary has a glimpse of Leonard’s true measure.
Credit Jonathan Bank, the director, for keeping Mr. Hill on track with Leonard’s torrential patter, and for sharply etched performances from the supporting players, including Kristin Griffith as Mrs. Timbrell; Katie Fabel as the daughter, Ada; and Patricia Kilgarriff as a gruff but kindly landlady. As the Mancunian Mary, Ms. Brookshire is a sturdy combination of humility, practicality and, ultimately, resolve.
Technical contributions are impeccable. Martha Hally’s costumes are right at home amid Roger Hanna’s evocative sets (including a reversible fireplace). Nicole Pearce’s lighting casts a drawing-room glow, while Zhanna Gurvich’s paintings add a wry, droll underpinning.
A hero somewhat in the Shavian and Wildean mold, all observations and wisecracks, the often charming Leonard is more an antihero, possessed of contradictions. His insolence and loquacity obscure his emotions. “I can’t make out how much he cares,” Mary says. Monkhouse doesn’t limit his literary arrows to upper-crust conceits. Leonard is undone by his own restless intellect, confounding even himself.