March 2, 2009

THE Mint Theater has done it again. While the rest of the town’s classical theater companies are mainly content to showcase the usual endless diet of Shakespeare, Chekhov, Williams and O’Neill, this invaluable company excavates forgotten works providing endless fascinations.

Their current offering is the New York premiere of “The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd,” one of eight plays written by novelist D.H. Lawrence that have mostly remained unseen. Ignorance should not be claimed as an excuse. “Holroyd” – written in 1910 when its author was only 25 – was published in book form in 1965 and was presented at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater in a 1973 production that (if you can believe it) was broadcast on public television the following year.

It’s an autobiographical work based on the troubled relationship of his parents, a subject he would explore in more depth in his novel “Sons and Lovers.”

Set in a depressed British mining town, it depicts the failing marriage between a coarse miner (Eric Martin Brown) and his more refined wife (Julia Coffey). The sort of abusive lout who brings home other women to rub his infidelities in his wife’s face, Holroyd, as the title indicates, eventually reaches an untimely end.

But before that, his wife is wooed by one of her husband’s co-workers, the gentlemanly Blackmore (Nick Cordileone), who begs her to take her two young children and run off with him to Spain.

The deceptively simple play provides an evocative portrait of helpless longing. Mrs. Holroyd still loves her husband even while she can no longer tolerate him, while her suitor – so gentlemanly that he wipes off the drunken Holroyd’s bloody face after knocking him unconscious – reveals his underlying despair when he asks, “Why should he have you and I’ve never had anything?”

The play contains several deeply moving scenes, such as when Mrs. Holroyd slowly lets down her guard to succumb to Blackmore’s advances, and when she and her mother-in-law (Randy Danson) lovingly wash her dead husband’s body.

Stuart Howard’s atmospheric staging and the fine performances by the ensemble (especially Coffey in the title role) fully bring out the work’s strengths.

Like “The Daughter-in-Law” – another play by Lawrence that was presented by the company – “The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd” demonstrates that the author never got his proper due as a playwright.