Monday, March 2, 2009

The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd


By DH Lawrence; Directed by Stuart Howard. At The Mint Theater. (CLOSED)

The Mint Theater (where, full disclosure, I used to work many years ago) returns to the D.H. Lawrence well with much appreciated results. Critics--many of whom fondly remember The Mint's previous Lawrence production The Daughter-In-Law--are fascinated by the semi-autobiographical depiction of life in a Midlands coal mining family and praise the passionate and dialect-heavy performances of the cast. On the negative side, reviewers feel that the play (which Lawrence wrote when he was only 25) demonstrates a writer finding his voice rather than a fully mature work.

NYPost A
(Frank Scheck) The Mint Theater has done it again. While the rest of the town's classical theater companies are mainly content to showcase the usual endless diet of Shakespeare, Chekhov, Williams and O'Neill, this invaluable company excavates forgotten works providing endless fascinations.

Lighting and Sound America A
(David Barbour) The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd is an uncompromisingly bleak drama that compels one's attention throughout; it's a major work from a major writer... In the wrong hands, this story could be oppressive, but thanks to Lawrence, the action is stripped of irrelevancies, forcing your attention as it works its way to its grim conclusion. Stuart Howard's production is equally unadorned and to the point: Julia Coffey's ramrod posture and steely manner make clear just how much strength Mrs. Holroyd must call up simply to get through the day. She is well-matched with the Blackmore of Nick Cordileone, whose quiet manner masks a deep watchfulness and a reservoir of unspoken feelings. Eric Martin Brown is every inch the pathetic brute as Holroyd -- he's not a monster so much as a little man, overwhelmed by his life.

TheaterMania A-
(Barbara & Scott Siegel) While the play suffers from being a touch heavy-handed, it's also rather startling in its economy of storytelling...Where the play gets into trouble is in its second act -- dominated by a visit from Mr. Holroyd's mother (the heartbreaking Randy Danson) -- that is so relentlessly grim that it's going to put off a number of theatergoers. Most unsatisfying is the lack of resolution in the relationship of Blackmore and Mrs. Holroyd. It's almost as if the play needed a third act that the young D.H. Lawrence had not yet learned how to write. Under the sterling direction of Stuart Howard, the cast is excellent.

Backstage A-
(Karl Levett) Although lacking some of the more complex psychological elements of The Daughter-in-Law, The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd has an elemental power of its own. Its very simplicity gives it a dramatic purity that compels attention...Sensitively directed by Stuart Howard, with dialect coach Amy Stoller assisting with the difficult Midlands accent, the play belongs to Coffey in a fine performance of controlled realism lit with passion, while Cordileone offers a touching characterization of a would-be suitor. Lawrence's best writing is in the hesitating, almost-love scene of this sympathetic pair. While the physically well-cast Brown has little opportunity as the drunken brute of a husband, his meandering accent is a little troubling. Strong support is given by Danson, and there's a particularly colorful turn from Witherspoon.

Time Out NY B+
(David Cote) Lawrence's obscure but satisfying play comes to New York audiences thanks to—who else?—the diligent literary bloodhounds at Mint Theater Company. Director Stuart Howard's modest, atmospheric production nicely captures the hothouse tone that Lawrence made famous in his novels (Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow), a psychologically thorny combination of erotic longing and Christian guilt. While some scenes could use tightening, the claustrophobic realism of the setting (a cottage) acquires a dreadful emotional tension that breaks into tragedy when Holroyd's corpse is laid out in the parlor. (That title's a giveaway, no?) Elizabeth wanted him dead, certainly, but the remorse is even more terrible

American Theater Web B+
(Andy Propst)
Remarkably satisfying... Directed with care by Stuart Howard, "Widowing" unfolds with a sort of leisure that never lapses into languor, and although some of Lawrence's play feels overwritten (the scene in which Mrs. Holroyd and Blackmore finally express their feelings for one another feels as if it has three endings before it reaches its conclusion), the play proves a riveting affair, that's populated with a host of smartly conceived performances.

Variety B+
(Sam Thielman) This is the second Lawrence play the Mint has dug up in the last few years (the writer's 1911 The Daughter-In-Law had its first Stateside production from the company in 2003), and it's a very unusual piece. The attitudes and prejudices of century-old smalltown England don't jibe with the prevailing outlook in 21st century Manhattan, but the production's total commitment to the era draws us in, rather than trying to translate it for us. The result is something totally unexpected and unavailable anywhere else in New York theater.

NYTheatre B
(Peter Schuyler) This is a strong, albeit flawed production. There are a lot of elements at play and some shine a great deal more than others. Stuart Howard's direction is dynamic and gives the cast room to play, but in some cases they come close to hanging themselves with all the extra rope. Amy Stoller's contributions must be lauded; she had an incredibly difficult job assisting the cast with a rather obscure British dialect. Her primer in the program is immensely helpful in understanding some of the more difficult passages in the play. Though there is some difficulty with the dialect, the ensemble does a fine job in bringing their respective characters to life: Nick Cordileone as Blackmore paints a vibrant portrait of a man trying to understand love with a limited emotional vocabulary, and Randy Danson's Grandmother is a stunning portrayal of a woman beaten down by compromise. But this is hands down Julia Coffey's show. As Mrs. Holroyd she has us from the very beginning of the piece; her dignity and strength carry the show with grace, especially through some of the rougher patches.

CurtainUp B
(Elyse Sommer) While I found The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd too slow and understated to be as satisfying as The Daughter-in-Law, it's an interesting companion piece and affords a rare opportunity to see this little known play performed live. It's been televised several times, primarily as an acting tour-de-force for Zoe Wannamaker and Geraldine Fitzgerald, but you have to see Julia Coffey and her stage-mother-in-law, Randy Danson, to experience the full power of the final scene in which these women achieve a closeness that neither ever had with her husband. As usual, this production fulfills the Mint's mission to add an educational and enriching component to their effort to call attention to neglected plays.

NYP A 13; L+SA A 13; BS A- 12; TM A- 12; TONY B+ 11; ATW B+ 11; VAR B+ 11; NYTH B 10; CU B 10; TOTAL = 103/8=11.44 (B+)

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