September 10, 1997

Jonathan Bank, the artistic director of the Mint Theater, says his company’s revival of George Aiken’s dramatization of ”Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is an ”effort to reclaim ‘Uncle’ Tom’s good name.”

Well, Tom got a bad name because, no matter how noble he was in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, he didn’t resist his exploiters from the start. In the play, and certainly in this production, his nobility is unquestionable. But he’s still done in, unresisting.

The undertaking is heroic, and a little exhausting. With 20 actors taking 25 roles in about 30 unfolding scenes, this 145-year-old play is melodrama for an age when people liked to dive into melodrama, swim in it, toss it up and let it rain down on their heads. The language is deliciously lugubrious; the suffering of people like Eliza, little Eva and Tom reaches out and grabs you; the villainy of louts like Haley, Marks and Simon Legree is hissingly odious.

Charles Dumas, a veteran actor and director with an enormous range, approaches this old warhorse with energy, but also with respect. He keeps it moving fast enough to disguise its episodic simplicity; he emphasizes the humor of good guys like Phineas and Topsy, and if he turns the bad guys into a pack of rustic weasels, that only makes them more sinister.

It is all enough to stir the blood, if not always the imagination, and it will stir at the Mint, 311 West 43rd Street, Clinton, through Sept. 28.