September 24, 2008

For anyone who cares about continuity in theater history, who wants to see connections between playwrights over centuries, the Mint Theater Company is heroic. While the big nonprofits roll out the same greatest hits of Western drama (with very little dramaturgical insight or motivation—except that of creating star vehicles), the Mint finds obscure but rewarding riches from the shadowy recesses of its vault. For example, J.B. Priestley’s 1957 family drama The Glass Cage is arguably the missing link between Ibsen’s bourgeois tragedies and the moody domestic-subversion shockers of Joe Orton and Harold Pinter.

Fear of miscegenation and puritanical hypocrisy are the twin motors of this bracing work, which has been splendidly staged by Lou Jacob with a near-perfect cast. The drawing-room tale concerns the wealthy McBane clan of Toronto. Two of the brothers are godly, successful businessmen; a third was a dissolute wastrel who married a native woman and had three children with her. When The Glass Cage begins, those now-grown children are paying a visit to their uneasy relatives. But their ulterior motives quickly spill out: The cold, scheming outcasts want revenge for a lifetime of neglect.

Working within a tight naturalistic mold, Priestley explores metaphysical issues of forgiveness and freeing oneself from the past. Jacob deftly frames the action within Roger Hanna’s abstract maze of copper pipes. And the ensemble—which includes the fiery Jeanine Serralles, and Saxon Palmer and Aaron Krohn as the grudge-holding siblings—seems to love spending time inside a masterful drama. For us in the audience, the feeling’s mutual.