Emma Geer and Nick LaMedica
By Marc Miller
Mint Theater Company does well by Elizabeth Baker’s antique, but it’s hard not
to feel you’re being lectured to.
Baker’s The Price of Thomas
Scott is an interesting little antique with a curious morality. The
Mint Theater Company’s initial offering in its “Meet Miss Baker” series, the
1913 drama poses large questions about prejudices, convictions, and doing
what’s best for one’s family. And it answers them in ways that will fail to
satisfy a good part of the audience. Among us theater mavens, one question
that’s sometimes asked and never answered to anyone’s satisfaction is: Why are
so many plays written from the liberal point of view, and so few from the
conservative? Well, here’s one from the latter.
all takes place in the title character’s drapery showroom, in West London,
which, in Vicki R. Davis’s apt design, looks suitably shabby-genteel. Amid the
fraying furniture and out-of-tune upright are several fetching, Merry Widow-era ladies’
hats, including a chic black number with a long feather that will be regarded
by our title character as shockingly immoral. These, we learn, are the work of
his ambitious daughter, Annie (Emma Geer). She’s a young lady who wants
something dearly. As do all the Scotts.
(Donald Corren), an upright citizen in a close-knit community, wants to sell
the family business and return with Ellen (Tracy Sallows), his stoic wife, to
Tunbridge Wells, the site of their greatest, long-ago happiness. She’d love
that, too. Annie would like to escape to Paris and learn more about hat design.
And her brother Leonard (Nick LaMedica), 15 and bright, would like to dodge the
unappetizing family business and seek a far more promising career in the civil
service. All of which takes money.
Emma Geer and Ayana Workman
lot of locals keep popping in, too—quite a number for a short, one-act affair.
Johnny (Andrew Fallaize), a lodger, is fixated on Annie. The feeling isn’t
mutual. His buddy Hartley (Josh Goulding) accompanies him because… well, really
for no reason at all, except as a dancing partner during a forbidden waltz
among the younger set. Neighbor George (Mark Kenneth Smaltz) discusses local
affairs with Thomas, and his daughter May (Ayana Workman) tries to wrest Annie
from her highly restricted upbringing and get her out to a dance at the town
hall. Lucy (Arielle Voder), the object of local gossip, tries on hats. It’s a
full, vibrant community Baker has concocted, albeit one punctuated mostly by
small talk. The whole play sits on a low flame; confrontations are brief and
underwhelming, and characters don’t change much, except for Annie, who can’t
decide whether to side with her father over the central conflict. Until she
Mitch Greenberg and Donald
Corren Photo by Todd Cerveris
conflict is delivered by Wicksteed (Mitch Greenberg), the far less pious old
school chum of the elder Scott. He now works for a developer that specializes
in dance halls, and he sees the drapery emporium as an ideal next site—for a
dance hall, really?—and will pay Thomas a walloping 500 pounds for it. Cue the
principal plot engine: Should Thomas, a fervent churchgoer who’s never been to
a dance and regards even theater as the devil’s instrument, sell out? It will
benefit his family to no end, and the buyer promises the dance hall won’t even
sell liquor. But will Thomas be compromising his principles?
may find yourself unsure of what Baker wants you to think at the end of the
day,” Jonathan Bank, whose direction is crisp and efficient, writes in his program
note. I wasn’t. Baker seems firmly on Thomas’s side, and even Annie comes
around to agreeing with him. Ellen weeps at the prospect of having to preserve
the dreary family business, but she dries her tears and assures the kids that
“your father is a good man.” Baker, whose background was a lot like
Annie’s—but, unlike Annie, did eventually make it to theater and dances—clearly
is patting her title character on the back for what she thinks is forthright
conviction, but comes across in this age as sheer small-mindedness. “Your
father is bigoted and overreligious,” the high-living, capitalistic Wicksteed
tells Annie, and it’s hard to disagree, but as far as Baker’s concerned,
Wicksteed’s the villain.
iffy British accents wander the Mint stage, especially among the younger folk,
but the actors are largely splendid—Corren, playing a prig, emphasizes his
better qualities and keeps us from hating him too much, and Geer is an ideally
graceful, winsome young lady. Hunter Kaczorowski’s costumes are both period-accurate
and attractive, and you’ll also like Jane Shaw’s musical programming, which
runs to such delectable now-rarities as “The Pink Lady Waltz.”
a flavorsome slice of life, albeit from a time and place we’re glad we’re not
living in. Consider: Dance halls were popping up all over, and movies were
increasingly depicting them. Irving Berlin was populating pianos with ragtime
and near-ragtime, and Vernon and Irene Castle were convincing the masses that
couples dancing together could be fun, sexy, and yet respectable. And Elizabeth
Baker? She’d have sent them up the river for it.
the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 W 42nd St, Manhattan.
tickets and more information, visit Telecharge.com.
time: 1 hour 30 minutes, no intermission.