Long before there was Reverend Moore in Footloose, there was dance adversary and forceful chapel congregant Thomas Scott. Scott has been offered a small fortune for his declining neighborhood textile business. The problem? The new owners would turn the desirable corner location into a dance hall: a devil’s playground as far as Scott is concerned. A righteous Protestant Nonconformist, he must now weigh his family’s future against his steadfast convictions.
Despite being written in 1913 by rising star Elizabeth Baker, The Price of Thomas Scott is brimming with modern dilemmas. Class still dictates potential opportunity for education and career. Our highly divided social climate is filled with the voices of strong convictions that have soured into prejudice. Many become even more entrenched in the familiar and pass judgement on those who are open to differing opinion. Yet as time moves forward, the seemingly outrageous and unusual can find more acceptance.
Scott’s family in question includes his far-sighted and talented daughter Annie (a radiant Emma Geer), whose creativity is stifled by her tasteless clientele. Her brilliant brother Leonard (Nick LaMedica who does his best to come across as a teenager) has the potential to become upwardly mobile. Their mother Ellen (an underutilized Tracy Sallows) longs to retire with her husband to Tunbridge Wells where they first met. While Scott himself (a crackling Donald Corren) has built his life around his chapel and now seems driven to protect everyone’s prospects for entrance to heaven. Temptation is provided in the form of Wicksteed (a polished and eloquent Mitch Greenberg) a former friend now employed by the successful Courney Company. The story is made richer by the Scott’s friends and neighbors played by Andrew Fallaize, Josh Goulding, Jay Russell, Mark Kenneth Smaltz, Ayana Workman and Arielle Yoder.
Director Jonathan Bank is constrained in his approach, relying heavily on Tracy Bersley’s choreography to pick up the momentum. All the action takes place in the back parlor of the Scott’s shop, represented by the perfectly rundown set created by Vicki R. Davis. The charming mostly muted costumes by Hunter Kaczorowski tell the story of period and class in pre-WWI England. The hats on display illustrate the gap between Annie’s instinct for style and her clients’ misguided requests. Shifts in the lighting by Christian Deangelis and music and sound by Jane Shaw help set mood and pace.
All are in service to the clever and often humorous words of Ms. Baker. Growing up in a household similar to that of the Scotts, she took in her first play at the age of 30. In short order she had transformed from an obscure stenographer to recognized playwright. At first you may need to navigate the various accents and a few older expressions, but then the flow is established and the characters come into focus. However, the ending will feel extremely abrupt to a modern audience. (Those around me failed to clap for a full 30 seconds, though they appeared stunned more than unhappy with the performance.) The production team seems to have recognized Baker’s departure from what has become an acceptable character arc and tacked on a post-curtain call “coda” to better manage expectation. Your reading of the Artistic Director’s statement and dramaturgical notes will help you better appreciate the work.
The Price of Thomas Scott poses some deep questions through pleasant voices. It is Mint Theater’s latest project in support of giving new life to neglected women playwrights. Runtime is 90 minutes with no intermission. It is playing through March 23 at the Beckett Theatre in Theatre Row. Full priced tickets are $65, though there are several discount options including $32 day-of Rush. For more information and to purchase seats visit http://minttheater.org/current-production/