October 15, 2002

Even St. John Hankin’s 1906 comedy, The Charity That Began at Home, virtually a theorem about human nature in three QED acts, contains enough passion to make its action go amusingly haywire. Hankin’s tactic is to show us what happens when a good-hearted highborn lady actually has to entertain and even employ the victims of her largesse. The ensuing upheaval, though carefully kept at a teacups-poised level of gentility, suggests Joe Orton with kid gloves on; even the irredeemable get their pretensions to wickedness stripped away. Gus Kaikkonen’s production, a bold, crude woodcut of Hankin’s elegant line drawing, nonetheless builds a sturdy bridge back to the era’s museum-remote behavior. Harmony Schuttler plays her ladyship’s pious daughter, to my relief, as if no one had ever told her that ingenues today are supposed to grate, whine, and generally behave like mall rats. Kristen Griffith and Becky London make some effect as her mother and her aunt, while Alice White supplies a droll cameo as the snootiest governess who ever resented a handout.