Brockman photos by Russ_Rowland
by Deirdre Donovan
with this letter comes a play, the first I have written. I wonder if you would
read it through and send it back to me because no matter what sort of
theatrical atrocity it might be, it isn’t valueless as far as I’m concerned.”
Delaney’s above letter to Director Joan Littlewood has a searing honesty, as
does her trailblazing play A Taste of Honey, which presents the lives of the working class in Britain during the 50s.
Littlewood not only read Delaney’s work, but was so impressed by its candor and
wry humor, that she directed it for her Theatre Workshop and debuted it at
Theatre Royal Stratford East on May 27, 1958. It would later wing its way to
the West End and Broadway and become the darling of the critics and public
a 35-year eclipse from the New York stage, Director Austin Pendleton has
remounted A Taste of Honey at the Pearl Theatre to kick off its fall
season. And the work surprisingly resonates with our contemporary culture and
social issues today.
parsing the current production, a few more words on this play that jolted the
theater world in the mid-twentieth century. Delaney penned it in only ten days
at age eighteen, when she was an unheard-of writer from Lancashire, England.
She had just seen Terence Rattigan’s play Variations on a Theme in Manchester before its West End premiere and was incensed over its “ridiculous attitude to
homosexuality.” A Taste of Honey not only was her response to
Rattigan’s insensitive work, it was a cri de coeur against the
narrow-mindedness of people of her day. What’s more, she hoped it would serve
as a lens into the disenfranchised lives of the poor and all marginalized
people in her society.
Botchan, Rebeckah Brockman
The play brings before us an impoverished teen Jo and her
semi-whore mother Helen. We meet them just as they are settling into an
unheated flat just before the Christmas holidays. But no sooner do they unpack
their bags that Helen’s boyfriend Peter materializes at the door with a spiel
that he will give Helen the good life she craves. Helen leaves with him with
nary a thought for Jo’s well-being. Lonely, Jo has a love adventure with a
handsome Nigerian sailor who soon leaves her for his next port o’ call. Jo
finds herself pregnant in New Year with nothing but her own courage to rely
on. She meets Geoff, a gay art student with a kind heart, who moves into the
flat and becomes like a “big sister” to her.
Botchan, John Evans Reese, Rebeckah Brockman
to the current iteration, the acting is mostly effective. Rebeckah Brockman is
well-cast as the gamine Jo, balancing the tomboy with the budding woman in her
character. Pearl veteran Rachel Botchan, as the semi-floozie Helen, is
fittingly brash and buxom but could add a whiff more bite
to her 40 year-old character. Bradford Cover is convincing as the rake Peter, mixing charm with a diabolical slickness. And Ade
Otukoya, as Jo’s sea-faring and fly-by-night lover, is spot on. And let’s not
forget John Evans Reese, who inhabits the gay art student Geoffrey with a
Botchan and Ade Otukoya
the acting, Harry Feiner creates a suitably shabby set that depicts a seedy Salford flat and the ghetto surrounding it. And, with Eric Southern’s naked lighting
outlining each tattered prop on stage, one gets a real taste of poverty in a
British backwater town. Rounding out the creative team is Barbara A. Bell,
whose eclectic costumes are perfect for her down-at-heel characters.
many poignant moments in this kitchen-sink drama. And one of the most touching
is when Reese’s Geoffrey tells Jo that he likes her and doesn’t mind being her
temporary companion and protector during her pregnancy. Or as he puts it
baldly: “Oh, well, you need somebody to love you while you’re looking for
someone to love.” And though Jo will eventually accuse Geoffrey of instigating
a “back-to mother” movement for her, she evidently has a great deal of
affection for him and admires his courage for marching to his own drummer and
pursuing his artistic dream.
who have never seen this play should take advantage of this opportunity to see
it staged with sensitivity by Pendleton.
who has made a name for himself for his treatment of the classics, proves once
again that he can dust off an old play and make it come alive for a new
generation. This provocative production of A Taste of Honey, which
kicks off the fall season at the Pearl, begs the question: What will Pendleton
Pearl Theatre, at 555 West 42nd Street (between 10th and 11th Avenue), Manhattan.
tickets and more information, phone 212-563-9261 or visit www.pearltheatre.org.
time: 2 hours; 30 minutes with one intermission.