NEW YORK (AP) — In modern vernacular, sometimes you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.
"Mary Broome" is a sharp domestic satire written by Allan Monkhouse in 1911 that remains witty and effective a century later. It's a drawing-room comedy that mocks the hypocrisy of middle-class people who found social change threatening, even though similar change had benefited their own rise in circumstances. Small-minded attitudes of the working class are also gently skewered.
A condensed revival, helmed with restraint by artistic director Jonathan Bank, opened Monday night at off-Broadway's Mint Theater. The Edwardian stuffiness and stilted language have been retained, to preserve the upstairs-downstairs nature of the plot. Yet the character with the worst attitude, carefree young Leonard Timbrell, could easily be a modern-day slacker, especially in his regular solution to financial problems: to sponge off his parents.
Graeme Malcolm is imperiously gruff as Edward Timbrell, the stubborn patriarch of a prosperous family who shocks his wife and children by insisting that his ne'er-do-well son Leonard, (Roderick Hill), marry the family maid, Mary Broome, after he makes her pregnant. Malcolm easily handles the capricious rages and mood changes that first enable, then imperil, the newlyweds' well-being.
Hill is nicely prickly as the outspoken, forward-thinking Leonard, who has many of the best quips in the play. He verbally pokes at people, seeming happiest when everyone in the room is confused or downright uncomfortable. Although Hill makes him as charming as possible, Leonard is resolutely irresponsible and selfish. Trying to explain why he can't compromise his self-proclaimed literary integrity and use his lawer training to support his wife and child, Leonard's weak defense is, "It's explanations I'm good at — not doing things."
Janie Brookshire gives a strong, impassioned performance as Mary, who respects the social pecking order and her humble place in it even more than the snobbish Timbrell family members do. Brookshire sensitively conveys a combination of naivete and practicality, and highlights the subtlety of Monkhouse's satire. When Edward furiously calls Leonard a "useless dilettante," Mary thoughtfully observes, "If he's like as you say, it's no great catch."
Kristin Griffith gives a warm, loving air to her portrayal of Leonard's understanding mother, who treats Mary with kindness and concern, unlike the rest of her family. Leonard's priggish brother Edgar and sister Ada (well-played by Rod Brogan and Katie Fabel, respectively) are both horrified that Mary must become part of their family, and remain stand-offish with her.
Edgar's shallow fiancee, Sheila, (given delicate hauteur by Julie Jesneck), comforts herself by declaring defiantly that Mary "would be my brother-in-law's wife, not my sister-in-law." Jill Tanner and Peter Cormican provide fine supporting performances as two different couples, as does Patricia Kilgarriff as the newlyweds' gossipy but sympathetic landlady.
Fussy, floral-upholstered Edwardian furnishings come and go on Roger Hanna's clever set, where the overwhelming array of family portraits by Zhanna Gurvich undergoes an amusing evolution as things progress to a bittersweet conclusion. Although Leonard remains confused and emotionally unavailable, he and some of his family appear to regret their blind foolishness by the end of the play.