by Lynn on January 27, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Streaming from The Mint Theatre website.

Written by Lillian Hellman

Directed by J. R. Sullivan

Sets by Harry Feiner

Costumes by Andrea Varga

Lights by Christian Deangelis

Sound and original music by Jane Shaw.

Cast: Mary Bacon

Janie Brookshire

Larry Bull

Chris Henry Coffey

Kim Martin-Cotton

Dan Daily

Ted Deasy

Roderick Hill

Betsy Hogg

Geoffrey Allen Murphy

Evan Zes

An early Lillian Hellman play that packs a punch and illuminates the towering playwright she will become.

A Note: I could review the pomp, class and drama of the Inauguration last Wednesday. Or the farce and pretence of the previous president  lurching off to Florida,  hand in hand with his black-clad lady-wife earlier that morning, waving to those in attendance, his ill-fitting jacket unbuttoned revealing his symbolic overlong-red tie.

Or their arrival in Florida, this time with the lady-wife resplendent in a wild patterned orange floor length dress  descending the plane’s steps NOT holding  hands with the previous president, whose jacket was buttoned up for the first time in 4 years.

But I’m not reviewing any of that.

Instead, I’m reviewing Days to Come, an early play of Lillian Hellman that is streaming on the Mint Theatre website.

It’s about labour-relations, a strike, small town folksiness and manipulative doings by conniving shysters.

The Story. Days to Come is set in a small town in Ohio. Everyone knows everyone. They went to school together when they were younger, but there is trouble now.

The Rodman family owns a factory that produces brushes.  Many people in the town are employed there. But they are on strike because they want higher wages. Andrew Rodman, a quiet, decent man cannot raise the wages because business is not good. His sister Cora is a spoiled adult woman with no empathy for anyone. She wants her share of ‘profits’ and does not see why she has to pay for expenses.

Andrew is married to Julie who seems unhappy. She is probably having an affair with Henry Ellicott, a shifty lawyer. The strikers hire a labour expert in strikes named Whalen. Andrew, on the advice of Ellicott, hires Sam Wilkie who has access to outside workers to do the job of those on strike. Another name for the outside workers is thugs. Strike-breakers.

Wilkie gets his men to try and provoke the strikers to retaliate with violence and Whalen advising them not to do it. It’s a fascinating look at money, labour, strikes, and manipulation.

The Production. Days To Come was produced by The Mint Theatre in New York City. The company specializes  in resurrecting lost it finds to be worthy for another run.  This production ran in 2018 and was filmed for archive purposes.  It’s a terrific record of an arresting play and illuminates the high quality of a Mint production.

Harry Feiner’s set for the spacious Rodman family home was well appointed, comfortable and was tended by two servants. The family was used to living in luxury. Andrea Varga’s costumes were stylish, elegant and beautifully tailored for Andrew (Larry Bull) and Henry Ellicott (Ted Deasly). Cora’s (Mary Bacon) and Julie’s (Janie Brookshire) dresses were smart, flowing and beautiful. Because Wilkie (Dan Daily) had a lucrative business strike-breaking, he dressed with style and flash as well—three-piece well fitted suit, tie, etc. Even his goons dressed well. Andrea Varga dressed the others in cared-for work clothes: Whalen (Roderick Hill) wore a decent brown suit.

The cast was exemplary. As Andrew Rodman, Larry Bull beautifully portrayed a thoughtful, worried man who did not know how he was going to keep the factory and be true to his workers. He seems to have been the brow-beaten one of the family who everyone thought was a disappointment no matter how hard he tried.  As Cora Rodman the whiny sister, Mary Bacon assumed that piercing voice, full of that ‘woe is me’ attitude that comes from doing no work, having no responsibility or a sense of consequences. As Whalen the strike advisor, Roderick Hill shows us a man who has seen the poverty in the world, the unfairness and does his best to give the underdog a break. Lovely work from all of them.

J.R. Sullivan’s direction was efficient, thoughtful  and served the play beautifully. We see a world of wealth vs. a world of scraping for every nickel.

Comment.  Days to Come seems to be Lillian Hellman’s second play and yes, it’s little known. It was produced in New York City in 1936 at the height of the depression and it ran for only seven performances. But we can absolutely see evidence here of the towering playwright that Hellman would become, focusing on serious, important subjects.

In her first play, The Children’s Hour, it deals with rumour and inuendo regarding two women teachers at a school. The implications and consequences were devastating.  In Days to Come she deals with monetary matters, labour issues, small town politics and society. This was followed in 1939 by The Little Foxes about a ruthless woman who wanted a glamourous life away from her boring, sick husband and she was ready to do anything to get it. That dealt with class distinction, money and power.

The Little Foxes in a way developed the themes in Days to Come—themes of money, the huge divide between the rich and poor, the contrast of the decent and duplicitous and the lure of flash and success.

Hellman’s social awareness is evident in Days to Come when she provides credible arguments from the workers’ point of view and also the owners’.  It almost looked like a play without villains but of course the villains were obvious, because they were pulling the strings and doing the maneuvering around the hapless, honourable people wanting to do right.

The language in Days to Come certainly is vibrant and shows a writer with power and a flare for words. There is a line when a character talks about her sister who owns a boarding house and welcomes people:

“Boarding business is open to anyone who don’t steal.”

Wilkie says to two of his goons: “Try to act like you’ve been in a house with a bathroom before.”

Or this wonderful line from Whalen talking about how he understands about “The meanness and cowardice that comes with poverty.” Woow.

Lillian Hellman has insight and perception about the world she lives in (America in the Depression) and it comes through here. But I did have moments when my eyebrows crinkled. Too many mysteries arose in the second half of the play that had not been supported earlier. We find out that Andrew Rodman has gone into terrible debt and why late in Act III (those were the days of the large cast and a three act play). Everybody in that household knew secrets about everybody else and held resentments. I found that structure interesting. It was almost as if that third act was its own play. But it’s Lillian Hellman and you observe her technique rather than criticize or fault her lack of balance in the work. I was so grateful to see this wonderful production from a playwright early in her career

More productions from The Mint theatre will be coming up. Lots to look forward to.

Days To Come streams on the Mint Theatre website until February 21:

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