The New York Times

Hindle Wakes

January 19, 2018

Stanley Houghton’s “Hindle Wakes,” an obscure British play from 1912 that’s been dusted off and revivified by the Mint Theater Company, begins with a storm. Lightning flashes, the air rumbles and Sarah and Christopher Hawthorn wait fretfully for their grown daughter, Fanny, to return from her holiday.

Inside their kitchen, they light the gas lamps, and it’s all very lulling — until, out of nowhere, comes a thunderclap so bold and startling that, at the performance I saw, at least a half dozen spectators visibly jumped out of their seats. Bravo, then, to the sound designer, Jane Shaw, but kudos also to Houghton, whose play proceeds much along the same pattern — gentle as a summer rain until, bam, in Act 2, something electric happens to charge the air.

Gus Kaikkonen’s handsome, rough around the edges production, at the Clurman Theater, makes a better case for the play as a curiosity than a forgotten gem, though. This is a paean to women’s sexual freedom from a time before they even had the right to vote.

Scandal is brewing from the start. Fanny (Rebecca Noelle Brinkley), a weaver at the local cotton mill, told her parents that she was vacationing with a female friend — and she was, until she met Alan Jeffcote (the appealing Jeremy Beck), the mill owner’s overindulged son, and went off to have a fling with him.

Piecing this together, her parents are determined that Alan, who is already engaged to the wealthy Beatrice (Emma Geer), make amends for his flagrant indiscretion. To them, and to Alan’s father, Nathaniel, that means marrying Fanny.

This is a play about class, ambition and self-determination, but it’s even more concerned with the suffocating effects of paternalism. Much of the first act is a negotiation between Nathaniel and Christopher (Ken Marks), who are employer and employee but also friends from way back. That’s why Nathaniel, played by Jonathan Hogan with a nice combination of steeliness and flickering warmth, can’t ignore the damage to Fanny’s reputation. He vows to cut Alan off if he doesn’t make things right.

Houghton died at 32, the year after “Hindle Wakes” made its debut, which may explain the deep sympathy he has for his younger characters — even Alan, who’s not a bad sort, just an entitled twit who can’t seem to help stuffing one foot after the other into his mouth.

“Didn’t you ever think of me?” Beatrice asks, once she learns of the affair with Fanny.

“Yes, Bee, I suppose I did,” he says. “But you weren’t there, you see, and she was. That was what did it.”

Beatrice turns out to be tougher than you might expect. So does Fanny, and once she starts talking, her perspective jolts the stage with fresh energy. In all of these discussions about her life, no one has thought to solicit her opinion.

“You can’t understand a girl not jumping at you when she gets the chance, can you?” she asks Alan. And no, actually, he can’t. So in this play more than a century old, she proceeds to school him.