TIME OUT NEW YORK
MISS LULU BETT
March 30 - April 16, 2000
In his 1920 review of Zona Gale’s Miss Lulu Bett—which Gale adapted for the stage from her own best-selling novel of the same name—Alexander Woolcott wrote of the title character as if his readership were as familiar with her as, say, Daisy Miller or Jane Eyre. Some 80 years later, few remember Gale’s once immortal novel, the subsequent play, or the fact that the latter won the Pulitzer Prize.
But then, that’s what the Mint Theater is here for. To this company, America’s early theatrical history is a treasure trove replete with discarded gems And if the Mint doesn’t always make the case that the revival at hand unearths a lost classic—and it doesn’t quite with Miss Lulu Bett—it usually demonstrates that any script that once commanded attention and audiences can live again.
Our heroine, Lulu Bett, suffers the formerly ignoble fate of female literary figures: spinsterhood. Bereft of husband and home, she must earn her keep running her sister Ina’s house, where she suffers the ingratitude and patronizing remarks of the bourgeois Ina and her pompous fathead of a husband, Dwight. Possible deliverance from humbling servitude comes in the figure of Dwight’s high-living brother Ninian (now there’s a name that’s gone out of currency), who sees in Lulu virtues lost on the rest of the clan. Without giving too much away, Ninian is notwhat he seems, and—in a progressive message for the day—Gale has Lulu choose love at the price of scandal and independence at the cost of security.
Much of Gale’s dialogue remains surprisingly fresh, particularly when spoken by Angela Reed’s smart, sharp-tongued Lulu, or by Ed Sala, who makes you think that Dwight actually believes his endless line of pious platitudes. Some of the play’s dramatic situations, however, remain irredeemably creaky, including the ludicrous one that caps Act 1. Still, James R Nicola directs smoothly, and the rest of the cast is all capable and game. And if the play’s not quite a lulu, it’s in as good a condition as it’s ever going to be.—Robert Simonson