The Actors Company Theatre has unearthed another old chestnut of a play – “The Late Christopher Bean” written by Sidney Howard – based on the French “Prenez Garde a la Peinture” by Rene Fauchois – not seen in New York since it was first produced in 1932 and has given it a loving and glowing revival that will continue its run through December 5th at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row. It’s a perfect fit for this excellent company of actors and guest artists “dedicated to presenting neglected or rarely produced plays of literary merit.”
Targeting greed and the art world, “The Late Christopher Bean” takes its time setting up its characters and laying down the foundation that is fully and comically exploited in this three act play performed in two. Nicely directed by Jenn Thompson the transition that takes place in the Haggett household, particularly that of Dr. Haggett (a wonderful James Murtaugh) once they learn that they are in possession of some extremely valuable paintings that their tenant of ten years ago, the drunken and ill Mr. Bean created is priceless.
The practical and peaceful country doctor, Dr. Haggett is simply trying to collect from his patients and tightening the purse strings at home which his wife (Cynthia Darlow) is distressed over as well as their spoiled younger daughter Ada (Kate Middleton) when he receives a mysterious telegram from a Maxwell Davenport seeking a meeting to discuss Mr. Bean. Ada’s older sister Susan (Jessiee Datino) and Warren (Hunter Canning) – a house painter and paper hanger with aspirations of being an artist – he apprenticed under Mr. Bean learning his modern art techniques plan to elope. Abby (Mary Bacon) their maid of 15 years is leaving to take care of her brother and his four children after the death of his wife.
It is not until two Mr. Davenports arrive that things start to bubble forth with great fun. The first turns out to be an art forger who is a conniver and a con (Greg McFadden as Tallant posing as Davenport (James Prendergast) the art critic. Then there is Rosen (Bob Ari) another critic come in for the kill. Everyone’s after the lost paintings of the late Christopher Bean.
There are many complications and surprising twists and turns in the plot that eventually ends in a not quite so unexpected way. But it’s great fun getting there. Once the Haggett family learns the prices that the paintings (that they really thought horrid relegating them to the barn) can bring they become as greedy as the New Yorkers who have come to swindle them.
It is only Abby, the maid, who really liked Mr. Bean and took comfort in his teaching her about art and color who stays true to herself and the artist who painted her portrait that she wants to take along with her when she leaves. Mary Bacon gives a delightful performance that has love written all over it. She is funny, humble and able to rise to the occasion, divulging her secret that changes everything.
TACT has produced another winner with an excellent ensemble cast that brings truth and comedy to the forefront. www.tactnyc.org