If ever asked who I’d like to have dinner with – either dead or alive – Rachael Crothers would be my second choice, she being dead. The first being, Elizabeth II Queen of England.
Who you might ask is Rachel Crothers? Ms. Crothers was a prolific playwright – nearly 30 of her plays opened on Broadway between 1906 and 1937 and “A Little Journey” (1918) which has just opened at The Mint Theater in its first ever revival was a nominee for the 1st Pulitzer Prize for Drama losing out to Why Marry? By Mr. Jesse Lynch Williams. Could it have been because she was a woman?
Ms. Crothers was as funny as she was smart. And she certainly knew about human nature. Her dialogue is true to character and there is nothing dated about “A Little Journey” except the beautiful period costumes by Martha Hally worn by the woman on board the Pullman Car headed West where the action takes place over a four day period.
When you hear that certain “buzz” circulating among the audience members after the first act curtain (there are three) you know there has been something special on stage. “A Little Journey” is a gem of a play unearthed by The Mint which has a knack for unearthing very special vintage plays that resonate today just as they did when first produced. A fine example was another Crothers play “Susan and God” which was produced five years ago. I hope that we don’t have to wait that long again for another Rachel Crothers masterpiece to arrive.
“A Little Journey” is delightful, meaningful and humbling. It is exceedingly good and I whole heartedly recommend seeing this beautifully designed production. Roger Hanna has created some sort of miracle in this intimate setting with his rotating circular Pullman Car which has enabled director Jackson Gay to keep the action moving while the train heads West with its collection of odd characters. A perfect ensemble cast.
Three of whom open the play never to be seen again. The economics of 1918 play production allowing for such delicious excess could only be envisioned and executed to the nth degree by the amazing Mint Theater.
Those three characters are Kittie Van Dyck (Victoria Mack) and Ethel Halstead (Joey Parsons) and Alfred Bemis (John Wernke) boyfriend of Julie Rutherford (a lovely nuanced Samantha Soule) who is going back West to live with her brother leaving all behind as she has not enough money to remain in New York and hasn’t enough self esteem to get through her troubles. It is her journey that we follow although most of the other characters also change along the way.
There is the society matron Mrs. Welch (a sensational Laurie Birmingham) the deaf Mrs. Bay (a huggable Rosemary Prinz) her granddaughter Lily (a fine Chet Siegel) an unwed mother Annie (a heartbreaking Jennifer Blood) traveling with her infant – who by the way is a most important character – its coos and squeals so believably done that not for a moment are you taken out of the story), two college chaps Frank (Ben Hollandsworth) and Charles (Ben Roberts) swooning after Lily and Julie respectively, Jim West (a manly McCaleb Burnett) who comes to the rescue when Julie cannot find her ticket and helps her to learn about herself and life, the brash and demanding Conductor (Douglas Rees) who doubles as Mr. Smith traveling in the only private compartment, salesman Leo Stern (a lively Craig Wroe) and the Porter (a charming Anthony L. Gaskins) who remains calm and professional despite the way he is sometimes treated.
“A Little Journey” is all lighthearted banter until Julie is forced to face some very important issues and then disaster strikes in the most unexpected and surprising manner which brings out the true humanity of all involved, leaving you with the most uplifting and hopeful thoughts from all these wonderful new acquaintances introduced to us by Rachel Crothers – a lady who knew her craft and her characters and manages to still entertain and move us with her sincerity about helping others. It’s an extraordinary play and production. I could see it again.
www.minttheater.org Through July 10th. Photo: Richard Termine
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