Beginning January 23, 2020, Mint Theater Company will present a program of short plays adapted from stories by two of the world’s greatest authors, Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy. These dramatic adaptations come from one of our favorite playwrights, Miles Malleson, author of Mint productions, Conflict and Yours Unfaithfully, both New York Times Critic’s Picks.

Chekhov wrote more than five hundred short stories in the years before he wrote the four plays that made his theatrical immortality. “If you ask any writer whom they revere as the founder of the modern short story, the chances are the answer will be Chekhov,” writes Rosamund Bartlett, author of books about both Chekhov and Tolstoy.

Chekhov’s An Artist’s Story tells the story of Nicov, a painter who encounters two very different women on a visit to the country. The flirtatious Genya flatters the artist with questions about miracles and the eternal, while her pragmatic sister Lidia ridicules the artist, questioning the necessity of landscapes in a world where people are poor and hungry. Together, they bring him to a new understanding of himself.

The first production was in 1919, directed by Edith Craig and produced by the Pioneer Players: an independent theater society known for its productions of feminist and Russian drama. Malleson played the title role.

Tolstoy’s What Men Live By tells the story of a Russian peasant couple whose lives intersect with a mysterious stranger whose odd ways and brilliant smile bring them to a new understanding as well. What Men Live By reflects Tolstoy’s dedication to living out a Christian pacifism based on personal conscience.

In the midst of World War I, the pacifist Malleson was inspired by Tolstoy’s empathetic vision. Infusing his adaptation with string quartet music composed for the production by Norman O’Neill, Malleson’s adaptation premiered as part of an all-female student program by London’s Academy of Dramatic Arts, providing audiences with “the pure milk of the Tolstoyan word on loving-kindness.” Audiences shell-shocked by the war welcomed this balm; audiences today will also warm to this hopeful tale of love and redemption.

Mint’s production will be the first-ever pairing of Malleson’s Russian gems, co-directed by Mint Artistic Director Jonathan Bank and his longtime collaborator, Jane Shaw. Jane has designed sound, and composed and arranged music for thirty Mint productions; she will be making her directorial debut at the Mint.

As a playwright, screenwriter, director, producer, and character actor, Miles Malleson  (1888-1969) established himself as a theatre artist of dazzling versatility. Yet while Malleson “acted the fool most memorably” in dozens of plays and films, he was also a playwright of provocative wit, searching insight and, as described by The Manchester Guardian, a sense of “ethical passion” drawing upon a lifelong engagement in progressive politics.

Born on May 25, 1888 in South Croydon, Surrey, William Miles Malleson enjoyed an idyllic, middle-class childhood in Brighton. However, family holidays spent at his Uncle Philip’s “passionately puritanical” Great Tew vicarage fueled Malleson’s rebellion against Victorian values. In 1908, Malleson entered Emmanuel College at Cambridge, where he excelled in the Amateur Dramatic Club. A wildly successful practical joke—the impersonation of a conservative MP at Cambridge—set Malleson’s mind upon the professional stage. At Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s Academy, Malleson gained acting experience and wrote short plays. He soon eloped with the brilliant Lady Constance Annesley, an actress, writer, and rebel daughter of an Irish earl.

During the World War I years, Malleson blended political activism with his rising career in the theatre. Both Miles and Constance moved among bohemian circles, joining movements in socialism, women’s suffrage, and causes of free love. They also became involved with the pacifist No-Conscription Fellowship, following Malleson’s military service. Invalided from the army in January 1915, after serving briefly in Malta with the City of London Fusiliers, Malleson confronted the horror of a “world gone mad” in his one-act plays, ‘D’ Company and Black ‘ell. In October of 1916, the British government seized copies of both plays from the publisher and denounced them as “a deliberate calumny on the British solider.”

Throughout the 1920s, Malleson led parallel lives as a classical actor and modern playwright. His political comedies, including Conflict (1925) and The Fanatics (1927), balanced the playwright’s commitment to social reform with sparkling dialogue and nuanced craftsmanship. Of Four People (1928), The Guardian praised “the play of a mind which is at war with usage and with institutions…and which can accept no sanctity of a social routine unless it justifies itself in human values.” At the same time, Malleson’s renown as “the best Shakespearean clown in the contemporary English theatre” (as described by St. John Ervine) led to roles in over a hundred films (including Kind Hearts and Coronets), as well as a distinguished career as a screenwriter. Also famous for his prose adaptations of Molière, Malleson died at the age of eighty on March 15, 1969.

Cast

Creatives

Sets: Roger Hanna
Costumes: Oana Botez
Lights: Matthew Richards
Sound: Jane Shaw
Props: Chris Fields
Casting: Stephanie Klapper, CSA
Production Stage Manager: Jeff Meyers
Stage Manager: Christine J. Colonna
Illustration: Stefano Imbert
Graphics: Hey Jude Design, Inc.
Press: David Gersten & Associates

Director and Designers - Jane Shaw, Jonathan Bank, and team

Sat. January 25, after the matinee

A peek into the design process with directors Jane Shaw, Jonathan Bank, and their creative team: Roger Hanna (Scenic), Oana Botez (Costumes), Matthew Richards (Lights), and Chris Fields (Props). This panel discussion will give you some insight into the collaborative process.

“A Mere Painter of Pictures?” Miles Malleson’s Chekhov and Tolstoy Adaptations
Maya Cantu, Mint Resident Dramaturge

Sun. January 26, after the matinee

Mint Resident Dramaturge, Maya Cantu, will discuss Malleson’s adaptations, and his Political and religious affinities with Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolsoty. Dr. Cantu is an accomplished dramaturge, scholar, and teacher. She is an alumnus of the Yale School of Drama, where she recieved her MFA and DFA in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism.

In Conversation w/ Maude Meisel: Anton Chekhov & Leo Tolstoy
Maude Meisel

Sun. February 2nd, after the matinee

Dr. Maude Meisel is a former Fulbright Scholar who holds a PhD from the Department of Slavic
Languages at Columbia Unversity. She has taught courses in Russian, Humanities, and Drama at Columbia,
Middleburry College, and SUNY Stony Brook. She is currently the Associate Director of the Challenge to Achievement program at Pace University.