THE NEW MORALITY, by Harold Chapin, takes us aboard a houseboat on a fashionable reach of the Thames in 1911, the hottest summer on record. Betty Jones has been simmering for weeks, watching her husband make an ass of himself by dancing attendance on their neighbor, Muriel Wister. Betty, "an amazing mixture of spitfire, penitent and hussy," finally boils over and tells Muriel exactly what she thinks of her—using bad language. Chapin's "most delicious of light comedies" tells the story of Mr. Wister's pursuit of an apology on behalf of his wife, and Betty's absolute refusal to oblige.
Harold Chapin was a rising star, first an actor, then a director and author. He had numerous one-acts and three full-length plays produced between 1910 and 1914. Then he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corp, just after war was declared in England. Chapin died on the battlefield in 1915 at the age of 29, leaving behind a wife, a four-year old son, and one play which he never saw performed.
That play was THE NEW MORALITY—Chapin's finest comedic achievement—which remained unproduced until 1920. Finally it was offered for two performances in London by the newly revived 'Play Actors', a troupe dedicated to promoting its members and introducing new work. "Seeing that the Play Actors, who have just resumed operations after a long enforced silence, brought out as many as seven of the plays of the late Harold Chapin, it was appropriate enough that they should choose a hitherto unperformed piece by that thoughtful and brilliant dramatist," reported The Stage, calling the play "witty and sparkling."
"When Harold Chapin fell in France the modern British theatre lost a comic writer of high order," declared the Sunday Times. "For intellectual foolery his NEW MORALITY has no equal in present-day work." Not only did critics lament the loss to the English theatre when Chapin died, they also bemoaned the lack of perception among producers in London. "A play that ought to be snapped up by a manager and given a run," wrote the Illustrated London News. "It must be true that the taste for comedy, which is an educated taste, has very nearly disappeared from London," St. John Ervine quipped in the Guardian. "But it will, no doubt, come back again; and when it does this play will have its day."
While waiting for a London manager, THE NEW MORALITY played in New York in 1921. The New York Times found it "piquant and pleasing" but it only played a handful of matinees, unable to find a theater for a proper run. Finally, in 1925, it had a well-received London revival, followed by some regional success—but this delicate and charming comedy with "a real idea as the basis" has never received its proper due.
In 1957, Bennitt Gardiner, a columnist for The Stage wrote an impassioned piece under the headline "Why Not Revive Harold Chapin's Plays?," which expressed bafflement over "the long total eclipse of the plays of Harold Chapin," especially THE NEW MORALITY, which "has a dazzling lucidity, shrewd depths of intelligence and satirical wit with one superb Shavian 'big' speech clearly expressive of the author's personal vision, which entitles it to a permanent niche in the repertory of English high comedy."
He went on to predict:
Although it has taken far longer than predicted, that day has finally come. In honor of the centenary of Harold Chapin's heroic death on the battlefield in 1915, Mint Theater is proud to present THE NEW MORALITY, beginning August 22nd, 2015.
EnrichMINT Events are supported in part by a grant from the Michael Tuch Foundation.
All events take place immediately after the performance and usually last about fifty minutes. They are free and open to the public. Speakers and dates subject to change without notice.
SHAW AND MORALITY, NEW AND OLD
David Staller, Gingold Theatrical Group
- Sunday, August 23 after the matinee
- David Staller is Founding Artistic Director of Gingold Theatrical Group, which presents work championing human rights with the writings of George Bernard Shaw as its guide. Since 2010, he has given the annual keynote address at the International Shaw Society symposium at Canada's Shaw Festival. David will discuss Shaw's views on morality, which may have influenced Chapin.
BETTY JONES: WICKED OR WONDERFUL?
Sarah Appleton, Old Dominion University
- Saturday, August 29 after the matinee
- Sarah Appleton is Senior Lecturer of English at Old Dominion University. Her 2001 book The Bitch is Back: Wicked Women in Literature examines the archetypal "bitch" character in literature: the woman who is willfully and unapologetically 'bad' by societal standards. Sarah's post-show discussion will examine the character of Betty Jones through this lens.
"THEY DO PUT YOU IN THE DOCK FOR LIBEL, DON'T THEY?"
Benjamin C. Zipursky, Fordham University
- Sunday, August 30 after the matinee
- Benjamin C. Zipursky is Professor of Law and James H. Quinn '49 Chair at Fordham Law School. In The New Morality, Betty Jones insults her neighbor and refuses to apologize, resulting in the threat of a "criminal libel" lawsuit. Ben's post-show discussion will focus on the play's interweaving of feminist themes and defamation law.
LIFE ON A HOUSEBOAT
Leslie Day, Naturalist
- Sunday, September 6 after the matinee
- Leslie Day is the author of three nature guides to New York City. She taught science for 20 years and currently leads nature walks in the city. The New Morality takes place on a houseboat on the River Thames. Leslie will cull from her 40-year history as a resident of the 79th Street Boat Basin, to discuss daily life on a houseboat.
"BECAUSE SHE LIVES IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY": THE NEW MORALITY AND THE NEW WOMAN
Vlasta Vranjes, Fordham University
- Saturday, September 12 after the matinee
- Vlasta Vranjes is a professor in the English Department at Fordham University. She is currently writing a book titled English Vows: Marriage Law and National Identity in the Nineteenth-Century Novel. Vlasta's post-show discussion will focus on The New Morality's treatment of gender relations and will provide historical and cultural context for the play.
"YOU'RE NOT A SUFFRAGETTE": THE SOCIAL POLITICS OF HAROLD CHAPIN
J. Ellen Gainor, Cornell University
- Saturday, September 19 after the matinee
- J. Ellen Gainor is Professor of Theatre and Associate Dean of the Graduate School at Cornell. A specialist in British and American drama of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and women's dramaturgy, she most recently co-edited The Norton Anthology of Drama. Professor Gainor will discuss the social and political context of Harold Chapin's work.
HAROLD CHAPIN'S CANDID COMEDIES
Maya Cantu, Theater Historian and Dramaturg
- Sunday, September 20 after the matinee
- Maya Cantu is a theater historian, scholar and dramaturg. She received a D.F.A. in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at Yale School of Drama. Her book American Cinderellas on the Broadway Musical Stage: Imagining the Working Girl from "Irene" to "Gypsy" will be available through Palgrave Macmillan this October. Maya will discuss the life and work of Harold Chapin.
- Christian Campbell
- Clemmie Evans
- Michael Frederic
- Kelly McCready
- Brenda Meaney
- Ned Noyes
- Douglas Rees
- Sets Steven C. Kemp
- Costumes Carisa Kelly
- Lights Christian DeAngelis
- Original Music & Sound Jane Shaw
- Props Joshua Yocom
- Casting Judy Bowman
- Dialects & Dramaturgy Amy Stoller
- Production Stage Manager Kathy Snyder
- Assistant Stage Manager Arthur Atkinson
- Illustration Stefano Imbert
- Graphics Hey Jude Design, Inc.
- Advertising The Pekoe Group
- Press David Gersten & Associates