The Skin Game
by John Galsworthy
Mint Theater Company
(seen in previews)
"War is capitalism with the gloves off," an old "unreconstructed" teacher of mine used to say. And such bare-knuckled (see title) class-conflict is exactly the subject of Galsworthy's 1921 drama, posing as a potboiler about zoning rights between two country neighbors. The deeper meaning at first seems to be lost on the Mint Theatre's production team when we are greeted with a front curtain painting of "England's mountains green" and music out of a Miss Marple series. The set soon revealed by said curtain is another letdown; instead of the "stone and cigar-leaf brown" called for by Galsworthy for his Hillcrists' ancient country estate designer Vicki Davis gives us a bright and airy "Better Homes" cover. To see the gout-ridden old Mr Hillcrist decked out in such a natty tan suit and blue shirt confirms the immediate suspicion that the Mint has prettified a decidedly unpretty story. Galsworthy's characters have arrived at a boxing match, only to have a garden party break out.
But after intermission, director Eleanor Reissa finally finds the right tone (in a brooding and firelit boudoir scene). And for the seemingly impossible to cast role of Hornblower--the ill- mannered, Northern-accented social-climbing entrepreneur--Mint has found the compelling James Gale, who plays the melodramatic stakes (rightly) to the hilt. Only Gale and Diana LaMar as the lowborn "woman with a past," capture Galsworthy's severe and morbid spirit. The choice show-off role of "The Auctioneer" is wasted on Nick Berg Barnes, who goes for sensitivity instead of the slick capitalist cog he is written as; the scene still plays well enough, but Reissa again underestimates Galsworthy's ruthlessness.
Despite similarities in theme to The Cherry Orchard, Galsworthy lacks Chekhov's warmth, humor, and subtlety, and the play is not a lost masterpiece. For many, the only interest in reviving it would be for the Masterpiece Theatre/Merchant-Ivory faithful, who are just happy for the accents, tea service, and shrubbery. But for the historically curious playgoer, there is still much to chew on here, and this ultimately competent, if timid, production serves up just enough of it undiluted to make for some satisfying food for thought.
NY Times (7/11)
NY Sun (7/11, pay only)
(Correction 7/11: In my initial post of this review, I incorrectly identified the actors playing Chloe and the Auctioneer. The names are now corrected. I apologize to those I wrongly named-- and to those I rightly named, as well, for that matter.)
Friday, July 08, 2005
The Skin Game