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Days to Come

Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Days to Come

Larry Bull, Janie Brookshire, and Ted Deasy in Days to Come
Photo by Todd Cerveris

The Mint production of Lillian Hellman's Days to Come is a smart, relevant play burdened with plotlines that are its undoing. Hellman focuses on two major problems, a family-run labor strike threatening a brush factory, which is the major industry in the small town of Callom, Ohio.  At the same time, it zeroes in on the personal problems of the family that owns the factory.  The complexity blurs the focus of each side.  Resolution is slow coming and hard to nail down. 

While relevant in the Depression days of 1936, Days to Come was a box office disaster.  After  great success with The Children's Hour, Hellman's ambitious follow-up play is a broad canvas of law and order, financial trickery, corporate rights, personal expectations and individual passions, the haves and have-nots.  Originally, it failed to run more than seven days.  It was a blow to her self-esteem.

In program notes by Maya Cantu, Hellman later made revisions to Days to Come, which was published in Collected Plays in 1971.  Apparently this revised edition, particularly its second act, was used in a more successful staging at off-Broadway's WPA Theater and this is the version currently produced by the Mint Theater Company.

Directed by J. R. Sullivan and played by an able cast of eleven, Days to Come tells a riveting story in a stop-and-go way, much of the "go" in  Act Two.  The action largely takes place in the comfortable home of factory boss, Andrew Rodman (Larry Bull).

At the top of the play, passions simmer as the two housekeepers, played by Kim-Martin Cotton and Betsy Hogg, both worried about the factory workers' wage cuts and doing their part to support a possible strike.  Hoping to avoid the strike, Rodman is persuaded by his slippery lawyer, Henry Ellicott (Ted Deasy), to bring in strike-breakers, a nattily-dressed thug, Sam Wilkie (Dan Daily), who was probably wearing a pinky ring.  He broughtd two henchmen, snapped out of central casting, (Mossie Dowel) Geoffrey Murphy and (Joe Easter), Evan Zes,  assigned to guard the house in case of violence.   

On the workers' side is Thomas Firth (Chris Henry Coffey), as spokesman and family friend.  He learns from union organizer Leo Whalen, convincingly played by Roderick Hill, that there will be trouble when Wilkie is brought to town.  

The characters all seem to stand for something but are scantily sketched , just providing impressions. Bull reflects Rodman's inability to cope with his company leadership position situation any better than he can cope with his wife, Julie, played by Janie Brookshire, who spends most of her time wandering in the woods, searching for...who knows, who cares?  She is younger than her husband and, as Hellman calls her, is "a modern lost lady," a pale undefined watercolor.  In this passionless marriage and with the Rodman family legacy threatened, Bull is lost, with little ethical grip sustaining him.  

Sharing this family home is Rodman's sister, Cora, a bitter, demanding do-nothing, played with tight-faced self-involvement by Mary Bacon, and coming across as sharp as a razor blade.  

Designed by Harry Feiner, the Rodman's living room looks out on a garden that looks like a paint-by-numbers kit.  The room itself, however, is warm and period authentic.  The set folds later to reveal a corner that is Whalen's cluttered office, a place where Julie wanders to find...whatever, and Whalen isn't offer ing her much.  Jane Show provides fine sound effects, especially effective with rain. Lighting by Christian DeAngelis adds atmosphere and designer Andrea Varga's costumes are fitting for the  mid-1930's. 

Days to Come is best viewed as a period piece.  A few years later,  another play, The Little Foxes in 1939,  would successfully untanglie the financial legacy of a wealthy, troubled family, and playing out Hellman's belief that private ethics and morality affect the politics of society.

Days to Come

Mint Theater Company
Beckett Theatre
410 - West 42 Street, New York, NY
Previews: Aug 2, 2018. Opening: Aug 26, 2018. Closing: Oct. 6, 2018
Running time: Two hours, 10 min.  One intermission.
Cast: Kim Martin-Cotten (Hannah), Betsy Hogg (Lucy), Mary Bacon (Cora Rodman),Ted Deasy (Henry Ellicott), Larry Bull (Andrew Rodman), Janie Brookshire (Julie Rodman), Chris Henry Coffey (Thomas Firth), Roderick Hill (Leo Whalen), Dan Daily (Sam Wilkie), Geoffrey Allen Murphy (Mossie Dowel), Evan Zes (Joe Easter). 
Playwright: Lillian Hellman
Directed: J.R. Sullivan

Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
August 2018

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