The New Morality

The playwright Harold Chapin, born in Brooklyn and raised in London, died a hundred years ago, in the Battle of Loos. This play, first produced shortly after his death, is an unabashed comedy with bite. Set on a houseboat on the Thames in the historically hot summer of 1911, the action stems from some very public insults that Betty Jones (Brenda Meaney) hurls at her next-door neighbor on the river. With this seemingly trivial outburst, Chapin examines not only emotional issues but also the rapidly changing role of women in Edwardian society. Jonathan Bank directs the fine cast with the right balance of thoughtfulness and silliness. Meaney is wonderful in the central role, showing consummate humor, feeling, and intelligence. But, in a surprising twist, the playwright puts his theme in the mouth of a drunken upper-class twit, and Ned Noyes nails the big scene.