Having struck theatrical gold with THE VOYSEY INHERITANCE in 1999, Mint Theater revisited Harley Granville-Barker with a world premiere of his 1916 one-act comedy, A FAREWELL TO THE THEATRE. “Although it’s taken 84 years to mount this subtle work, the Mint has made it worth the wait” wrote Jason Zinoman in Time Out New York. Critics and audiences were enchanted by the play, which, as per Zinoman’s elegant summation, tells “an intimate and emotionally nuanced story about the unrequited love between a fading grande dame and her sad-eyed lawyer.”1

Mint paired the play with another theatrically-themed one-act from 1916, George Kelly’s THE FLATTERING WORD, a sly satire about a stage-hating reverend who harbors a secret ambition of treading the boards himself. Together, these elegant plays added up to one “stimulating and absorbing evening “2 of theater.

“A theatrical gem of rarest value,” praised the Irish Echo of A FAREWELL TO THE THEATER and THE FLATTERING WORD. “They pair so well together that it’s amazing that there seems to be no record of them having been done in New York before, either together or separately.”3

It would be hard to exaggerate the seminal role played by the actor, director, playwright and polemicist Harley Granville-Barker (1877-1946) in the development of 20th-century British theatre.

Barker fought to create the conditions in which intelligent new drama could flourish, challenging the pernicious system of long runs, lavish settings, and an emphasis on stars that deterred artistic risk.

The repertory movement and the National Theatre for which Barker agitated (drawing up the first detailed Scheme for it in 1907, with the critic William Archer) owe a huge amount to his example and inspiration, as does modern Shakespeare production.

So, Barker’s legacy would have been considerable, had he not also written a clutch of subtle, penetrating plays that combine Chekhovian skill at handling a large ensemble with trenchant social analysis.

The world of Edwardian women, their economic dependence on men and the interaction of fashion and feminism, is viewed in four different environments in his astonishing 1910 piece The Madras House.

In 1918, Barker acquired a wealthy American wife and retired from the hurly burly of the theatre. The puzzle of what happened psychologically to theatre’s great white hope would make a fascinating, speculative drama – though you would probably need the gifts of Granville-Barker to do it justice.


Pulitzer Prize-winner George Kelly wrote ten full-length plays during a distinguished career in the New York theatre. Kelly crafted indelible American types in his classic “plays of character” The Torch BearersThe Show-Off, and Craig’s Wife, as well as underappreciated works like Philip Goes Forth.

George Edward Kelly was born on January 16th, 1887 in Schuykill Falls, Pennsylvania, the eighth of ten children born to the remarkable Irish-Catholic family known as the “Philadelphia Kellys.” George’s siblings included Walter C. Kelly, a vaudevillian famous for his dialect comedy as “The Virginia Judge.” After early training as a draftsman, the shy but stage-struck George followed Walter into the theatre, where, beginning in 1911, he acted in touring companies and vaudeville sketches. After serving in France during World War I, Kelly began to write his own one-act plays for the Keith-Orpheum circuit, where he found success with his comedies Finders Keepers (1916) and The Flattering Word (1918), the first of numerous plays with theatrical subjects.

The early 1920s lifted Kelly to the height of popular and critical acclaim, with plays that he both wrote and directed. While 1922’s The Torch Bearers convulsed audiences with its “travesty on the amateur actor,” 1924’s The Show-Off was hailed as a masterwork by many critics, including Heywood Broun, who called it “the best comedy which has yet been written by an American.” Although Kelly decried the Twenties as “The Vulgar Age,” the era’s go-getting business spirit satirically fueled The Show-Off, whose title character Aubrey Piper became a synonym for a blustering braggart. Kelly created another American archetype in the obsessive, destructive housewife of his next play, the 1925 psychological drama Craig’s Wife, which earned him a Pulitzer Prize. By this time, notes Foster Hirsch, “a new play (by Kelly) was as keenly anticipated as a new one by Eugene O’Neill.”

By Maya Cantu


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