November 23-30, 2000

While debates rage in academia over curriculum, most New York theater producers still cling loyally to the canon, recycling the same classics over and over again (Midsummer Night’s Dream, anyone?). Thankfully, there are a few adventurous companies scrounging around the dustbins of history for overlooked plays. Leading the way—along with the Theatre for a New Audience and the Drama Dept.—is Jonathan Bank’s Mint Theater, which produced last year’s New York premiere of Harley Granville-Barker’s excellent The Voysey Inheritance almost a century after its London staging (TFANA’s 1999 production of Granville-Barker’s criminally ignored political play Waste was also a Gotham premiere).

The turn-of-the-century English playwright returns once again to the Mint, this time with a world premiere: the exemplary one-act Farewell to the Theater, which is paired here with The Flattering Word, a slightly amusing comic short from George Kelly. (Kelly is also author of The Torch-Bearers, which enjoyed a much-lauded run at the Drama Dept.)

Both plays date from 1916, and both address the life of the actor, though the similarities pretty much end there. While Farewell is an intimate and emotionally nuanced story about the unrequited love between a fading grand dame (Sally Kemp) and her sad-eyed lawyer (George Morfogen), Flattering hits you over the head with its jokey message that everybody (even uptight churchmen) wants to be onstage. In the latter, Michael Stebbins plays an awkward, closed-minded reverend, who is both disapproving of and intrigued by a slick actor (Allyn Burrows). These charming performers manage to make a good deal of hay with their broadly drawn antagonists.

Farewell’s Kemp and Morfogen handle Granville-Barker’s dense, exalted language with meticulous care. “Queer, silly children, the public is,” she says, sounding like a mother too hopelessly devoted to let go. Avoiding stereotyped overacting, she delivers a particularly mature performance that masterfully projects her character’s tragic ambivalence between settling down and continuing to pursue the audience’s applause. Although it’s taken 84 years to mount this subtle work, the Mint has made it worth the wait.