TIME OUT NEW YORK
UNCLE TOM'S CABIN
“Good stories well told” is the stated mission of the Mint Theater Company, and it lives up to this goal admirably with its latest production, a solid, unexpurgated workout of George Aiken’s original 1852 dramatization of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s controversial novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The play may not have much to say to a late-20th-century audience, but its largely old-fashioned melodramatic frame still contains a great deal of simple, honest humor and heartbreaking compassion—elements too often lacking in today’s theater.
Presented unrevised and free of political correction, this Uncle Tom’s seems a lot like one that might have toured the country a century ago. As a result, the drama’s many stereotypes are played lo the hilt. Haley (John L. Damon), the bloodthirsty slave trader, and his blundering band of bounty hunters, the embodiments of evil, storm around the countryside in pursuit of Eliza (Sandra P. Grant) and her little boy Harry (Peter William Dunn), who are fleeing to the North to avoid being separated in a human auction. Eva (Roth Cornet), the ailing daughter of the good slaveholder St. Clare (Carl Palmer), is absurdly angelic as she is nursed on her deathbed in the loving arms of the pious, surprisingly honorable Uncle Tom (Ho Rucker). And the villainous plantation owner Simon Legree (George Spaventa) seems a seething monster as he commits unspeakable atrocities. Other characters laced into the story include Topsy. a sassy but ignorant, nappy-haired little black girl; her mistress Ophelia, a religious woman who calls all blacks “shiftless”; and Phineas, a clownlike con man who can’t do anything right. Anyone who dreamed up these characters today would be drummed out of town faster than you could say, “Yes, massah!”
With 20 able actors handling 25 roles, there’s no question this is an ambitious undertaking. That it all comes together so smoothly is a tribute as much to Charles Kirby’s excellent set and John Kristiansen’s costumes as to Charles Dumas’s animated direction. They set out to, in their words, “reclaim Tom’s good name.” and they succeed.