Review: ‘Conflict’ — A Vintage Play Ringing True With Relevance for Today at the Mint
By Miles Harter, Contributing Writer, June 22, 2018
Theatergoers who want to see top notch productions of rarely seen plays should check out the offerings of The Mint Theater Company. The Mint’s mission is to find older plays, often not produced for decades, and present them to a new audience. The plays they mount live up to the moniker of “classics,” as they prove to be just as relevant and timely today as when first premiered.
Conflict (subtitled “A Love Story”) was written by Miles Malleson and debuted in 1925. Just last year, the Mint presented another Malleson gem called Yours Unfaithfully, which was well-received, particularly by this writer. Conflict also does not disappoint. Malleson (1888-1969) was a British playwright, prolific Hollywood screenwriter, widely recognized Shakespearean actor in England, and character movie actor in the U.S. The program for Conflict includes an extensive and absorbing “biographical note” about Malleson, which chronicles his career, political activism, bohemian lifestyle, and three marriages, at least one of which was an open marriage. The theatergoer (and program reader) almost yearns for a longer intermission in order to finish reading the note. One wonders if Malleson would be the appropriate subject of a biopic, or perhaps a Netflix series.
Conflict takes place in the capacious home of a British aristocrat, Lord Bellingdon, and his daughter, the Lady Dare Bellingdon. The exquisite setting of the drawing room of this home is beautifully designed by John McDermott, with such superlative details as vintage tables and lamps and a grandfather clock. Two other critical scenes of the play transpire on a smaller set, a simply and suitably designed room, comprised primarily of a bed, in which the destitute aspiring politician Tom Smith is staying. This room is the locus of two important and intriguing late-night tête-à-têtes involving, first, Smith’s landlady, and later, Lady Dare.
The central character is Dare, who appears to be in her 20s. She has been seeing Major Sir Ronald Clives, who has announced, to Lord Bellingdon’s approval, that he will be standing for a seat in Parliament. Clives will run as a Tory (the more conservative party). The apolitical Dare initially does not appear to be interested in Clives’s views. But then another politico comes on the scene, the indigent Tom Smith, and he will run against Clives as a member of the Labour party (the more liberal party). Therein arises the conflict among the characters and between the platforms espoused by the two parties.
Lord Bellingdon and Clives, not unsurprisingly, favor loyalty to class and oppose any forays into the redistribution of wealth. Lord Bellingdon’s view also is: “I’d rather be ruled by Bolsheviks than by women.” Tom Smith, on the other hand, who was born wealthy and has been educated in elite schools, has had his own setbacks, and wants to help uplift others. As Dare learns more and more of Tom’s back story, she comes to empathize with him and the struggles of the poor.
The differences then and now appear to be stark, and Malleson, not unsurprisingly, given his own progressive political leanings (according to the program notes), presents the more conservative view as the more antiquated and outdated view. Repeatedly, the theatergoer is in a position of considering that the play could just as easily have been set in the 2010s rather than the 1920s.
Malleson intrigues us with amusing and intriguing one liners, some not unlike today’s comedy. For example, at one point, Dare’s friend Mrs. Tremayne warns her, in regard to a potential romantic liaison, “I think you’re playing with fire.” Dare responds, “I hope you’re right.” Unfortunately, although the actors’ British accents appeared spot-on, it was sometimes hard to understand some of the lines, particularly those appearing to be delivered with humor.
The performances by the seven cast members are excellent. Jessie Shelton is particularly graceful and radiant as the spoiled and sometimes impish Lady Dare. Jeremy Beck is just right as the not overly self-righteous and well-meaning Tom Smith. Through the splendidly portrayed Mrs. Robinson, by Amelia White, Malleson also explores frustrated voter apathy, again, not unlike today.
Conflict presented by Mint Theater Company at The Beckett Theatre, Theater Row, 410 42nd Street, through Saturday, July 21, 2018. By Miles Malleson. Directed by Jenn Thompson; sets by John McDermott; costumes by Martha Hally; lights by Mary Louise Geiger; sound by Toby Algya.
Cast: Jeremy Beck, Henry Clarke, Graeme Malcolm, James Prendergast, Jessie Shelton, Jasmin Walker, and Amelia White.
Cover: Jessie Shelton and Jeremy Beck in the Mint Theater’s production of ‘Conflict;’ photo: Todd Cerveris.