“Lost Plays Found Here.” So says The Mint Theater punningly about their mission. Founded in 1992 by Artist Director Jonathan Bank, the company gives new life to neglected plays primarily from the 1930s. Always polished, frequently charming, and often stunningly relevant, the line-up has included The Voysey Inheritance by Harley Granville-Barker, Rachel Crothers’ A Little Journey, and several works by the nearly forgotten Teresa Deevy. They have made their home in several comfortable venues around Manhattan, most recently City Center and Theater Row.
Financially slammed like every other small theater during COVID, The Mint occasionally opens their vault of recorded shows as a passive income stream. Their current offering is the intense drama, Days to Come. Written by Lillian Hellman between two better known plays — The Children’s Hour and Little Foxes — the plot unfolds over the course of a month in 1936 during a strike against a factory in a small Ohio town. Hellman chose to focus on the social impact the strike has on the close community. She conducted interviews with workers and management of the Wooster Brush Company to help her create characters of depth and conviction without the aim of solving their issues. Andrew Rodman, the owner, and Thomas Firth, the most vocal of the workers, are friends. Their long-term relationship makes their conflict more complex, especially when outside forces intervene. As events unfold it becomes clear that simply knowing a person over time doesn’t guarantee you can anticipate their actions.
Director J.R. Sullivan builds the tension between various pairs of characters, each with a distinct style and agenda. Larry Bull is the heart of the show, imbuing Andrew with surprising sensitivity and self-awareness. In contrast, Chris Henry Coffey’s Tom is all gut reaction. Coming between them is Ted Deasy’s Henry Elliot, a lawyer who’s wealth and style mask a grimy interior. In arguably the most difficult role, Mary Bacon successfully balances the symptoms of Andrew’s sister, Cora’s, mental illness with genuine if misguided concern. The rest of the cast includes Janie Brookshire, Dan Daily, Roderick Hill, Betsy Hogg, Geoffrey Allen, Kim Martin-Cotten, Wendy Rich Stetson and Evan Zes.
Recorded in August of 2018, the stream is very stable and there’s no log in process, though a valid email address is required. Audio quality is excellent and subtitles easy to read. It is shot from the audience viewpoint with straightforward camera work which never distracts. Costume designer Andrea Varga sets the tone with wonderful fabrics, which can be seen with increased clarity. And even on a small screen, the Rodman’s living room designed by Harry Feiner is lush with decorative detail.
The original Broadway production of Days to Come was a disaster. The influential William Randolph Hearst stormed out and the run lasted a mere seven days. While the work isn’t the most relatable or smooth of The Mint’s productions, it is well worth the two hour investment. It’s available On Demand at https://minttheater.org/ free of charge though April 2. A request for support will appear in the upper right hand corner at the end, by which time I hope you, too, are a fan.
Halfway Bitches Go Straight To Heaven
No one creates moments that are simultaneously unsettling and humorous quite like Stephen Adly Guirgis. Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven is his first play since being awarded the Pulitzer in 2015 for Between Riverside and Crazy. This new work is a snapshot of the struggling residents of a New York City halfway house, surrounded by an unwelcoming neighborhood and staffed by those whose lifestyles aren’t much healthier. It’s a sprawling script with over a dozen main characters to track. Many of the transactional relationships include elements of genuine affection and the ride is a profound one. Ultimately, though, it is not so much a tapestry as a sewing kit with each thread slightly touching the one beside it.
As the play opens, a group session is in progress. This initial conversation hits many predictable beats — drug use, sexual exploitation, and abuse — but also provides a quick introduction to the characters with whom we’ll spend the next three hours. We learn Queen Sugar (Benja Kay Thomas) has gotten caught up in an Amway-style pyramid scheme while Munchies (Pernell Walker) is preoccupied with Nigerian caregiver Mr. Mobo (Neil Tyrone Pritchard). There are glimpses of Wanda Wheels’ (Patrice Johnson Chevannes) elegance, the stranglehold that mentally ill mother Sonia (Wilemina Olivia Garcia) has over her bright daughter Tiana (Viviana Valeria), and the familiar relationship pattern fragile Bella (Andrea Syglowski) is recreating with lesbian in command Sarge (Liza Colón-Zayas). Always quick to say, “no,no,no” is Rockaway Rosie (Elizabeth Canavan). Taking center stage at the top is the clever rapper Little Melba Diaz (Kara Young). In the corner is morbidly obese Betty (Kristina Poe) whose surprise connection and subsequent blossoming is a highlight. And on the edge (and on edge) is the transgendered Venus Ramirez (a glorious Esteban Andres Cruz) a ferocious voice for those who insist on their rightful place. That list doesn’t include the rest of the staff compassionately portrayed by Victor Almazar, David Anzuelo, Sean Carajal, Molly Collier and Elizabeth Rodriguez.
Elizabeth Canavan ( Rockaway Rosie ), Liza Colón – Zayas ( Sarge ), Kara Young ( Lil Melba Diaz ) and Pernell Walker ( Munchies ). Photo Credit/ Monique Carboni.
As with other Guirgis plays, a subtle but clear picture of the outside world is also drawn. The city’s system is failing and the shortages of both supplies and care are making these lives unnecessarily challenging. A flock of goats tending the grass in a park uptown receives more devotion and support than any of the humans who are simply looking for a chance.
To hold all these tales, a skeleton of the tenement house dominates the set. The sparsely decorated central room of Narelle Sissons’ design also represents the office of the dedicated and overworked manager and occasionally the bedroom of an occupant. The area between the first row and the stage serves as the surrounding alleyways. Director John Ortiz places much of the action on the house front steps audience left and a bench audience right making the viewing experience a bit like a tennis match. Additional focus is achieved with lighting design by Mary Louise Geiger while the mood rises and falls with sound and compositions by Elisheba Ittoop.
Haunting and moving, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven is like taking in a gallery filled with the faces of those whom New Yorkers breeze past every day. Though their full stories are not on the display, the images will sear into you. Note that the material is strictly adult, containing nudity and simulated sex and drug use. The limited engagement co-produced by LAByrinth Theater Company has already been extended through Sunday, January 5. Regular tickets begin at $70 and are available online at atlantictheater.org, by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111, or in person at the Linda Gross Theater box office (336 West 20th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues).