Katie Firth, Jill Tanner, Kylie McVey, Polly
McKie, Athan Sporek, Philip Goodwin, Julian Elfer, Curzon Dobell, and George
By Ron Cohen
Companyís campaign to re-burnish the reputation of English playwright N.C.
Hunter scores a fair Ė if not overwhelming -- amount of success with its
mounting of his 1953 dramedy, A Day by the Sea.
In the 1950s
and early 1960s, Hunter (1908-1971) was one of Britainís top dramatists, his
plays attracting casts studded with the countryís thespian royalty. The
original London cast of A Day by the Sea included such luminaries as
John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Sybil Thorndike and ran for 386 performances.
It didnít do nearly as well, however, in New York, where a 1955 staging with
Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn apparently was ignored in the razzle-dazzle of
Broadway and chalked up only 24 performances. And eventually, Hunterís standing
in Britain fell precipitously in the wake of the brash and jarring work coming
from the emerging group of writers labeled the ďAngry Young MenĒ Ė John
Osborne, Arnold Wesker and Harold Pinter, among them.
Theaterís examination of Hunterís work started in 2013 with its production of
his A Picture of Autumn, and its newest show makes for a worthwhile
follow-up. The companyís enthusiasm for Hunterís output is also expressed
unstintingly in the biography appearing in the playís program. ďAs Hunterís
West End peers, including (Noel) Coward and (Terrence) Rattigan, draw renewed
rounds of applause in the varied theatre worlds of the twenty-first century,Ē
it says, ďHunter likewise beckons new audiences with plays rich in ambiguity
A Day by
the Sea examines the
uncertainties and anxieties of British society in the harsh years of recovery
after World War II. It portrays a group of upper- and middle-class folks
gathered at the country estate of the widowed matriarch Laura Anson (Jill
Tanner). They include her son, Julian (Julian Elfer), a 40-year-old diplomat
whose dedication to his job and the common good has closed out any personal
relationships; Frances Farrar (Katie Firth), who as a young orphan was raised
by Laura and now has returned years later after a scandalous divorce for a
visit; David Anson (George Morfogen), Lauraís 82-year-old ailing
brother-in-law, and Doctor Farley (Philip Goodwin), Davidís caretaker with a
predilection for gin.
Katie Firth, Julian Elfer and George Morfogen in A DAY BY THE SEA
by N.C. Hunter.
Photo: Richard Termine.
characters interact, the play, as has been noted many times, is reminiscent of
the work of Anton Chekhov. Nevertheless, Hunterís people take on their own
distinctive personalities, marked much more by traditional British reserve
rather than the surging of Slavic emotionality. Rounding out the cast are
Curzon Dobell as the family solicitor, Sean Gormley as one of Julianís
diplomatic service colleagues, Kilie McVey and Athan Sporek as Francesí young
children and Polly McKie as their nanny.
tellingly, the Mint production, directed by Austin Pendleton with admirable
sensitivity to it shifting moods of comedy and drama, provides the opportunity
to relish Hunterís acute philosophical ruminations on the quandaries of time,
aspiration, society, aging and mortality. The arguments contrasting the dark
assessment of mankind presented by the tipsy and pessimistic doctor and the
hopeful picture of the future painted by Julian are among the high points of Hunterís
Katie Firth and Julian Elfer
The main plot
line evolves around Julianís recall to a routine job in London from his post in
Paris, where he felt he was performing irreplaceable work with refugees. The
recall makes him realize how much he has ignored his own life for his job,
awakening his long-buried affection Ė perhaps even loveófor Frances. However,
as he will discover, Frances is no longer the happy innocent she was when she
first came to the Anson household.
production is not a total triumph of rediscovery may well be due to a lack of
theatrical chemistry, the gaps that can develop between performer and text.
There are stretches when the actors seem simply to be delivering dialogue
rather than actually communicating with one another. Granted, itís done with
style. The English accents are fairly impeccable, though they sometimes seem to
be the main concern of the actors rather than their charactersí emotional
states. (Amy Stoller is credited with dialects and dramaturgy, although many of
the cast members have Brit credentials of various sorts.)
but highly formal set designs, the estateís garden and the seashore beach, also
contribute to the stilted feel that pervades some of the action. Both locales
are dominated by a large, emphatically framed landscape painting set on dark
gray walls. A grab bag look of the costumes is also distracting, particularly
the matronly ensembles given to Frances, a woman whose allure, itís suggested,
has only been heightened by the tragedies in her life.
and David Anson
more notable turns are Morfogenís masterly sense of timing in mining the humor
to be found in the gruff rejoinders of the elderly Uncle David, and the
poignancy demonstrated by McKie as the lonely governess attempting to forge a
relationship with the reluctant doctor.†
as the story unfolds, the entire cast works diligently to give credibility to
the frictions and affections roiling through Hunterís characters, and while one
could wish for a more overall presence of that elusive quality called charisma,
one can certainly agree that Mint Theaterís appreciation of Hunter is a noble
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