Mint Theater Company's production of Stanley Houghton's Hindle Wakes, a British realistic play over a century old, vibrantly brings to the contemporary table sexual issues which preoccupy us today, however sublimated they may be by the overt needs of some to be politically correct. Ethics, class, customs and morals threaten to overwhelm the lives of two families in a Lancashire town called Hindle, and only through intense discussion do these well-conceived characters manage to resolve who should or should not marry whom, a universal issue if ever there was one.
As the Mint’s literature describes the plot, “It’s ‘Wakes Week” in Hindle, the mill is closed and the workers are idle. Fanny Hawthorn is relaxing at the seashore with a girlfriend when she runs into Alan Jeffcote, the mill owner’s son. Alan takes Fanny to a hotel in Wales for a few days of fun, but the fun stops when their parents find out. Of course, Alan should marry Fanny – no matter that Alan is engaged already [to Beatrice]. Should Alan do the right thing and make an honest woman of Fanny, or should he do the right thing and stand by his fiancée?”
In the strict customs of 1912, Fanny parents, the Hawthorns, discover her indiscretion. Mr. Hawthorn seeks a resolution from Alan’s father, Jeffcote. Jeffcote, a mill owner and old friend of his employee Mr. Hawthorn, reassures him that Alan will marry Fanny. Alan pleads that he loves his fiancée Beatrice. Jeffcote threatens to disown him; Beatrice hears of the infidelity and tells Alan that he has made his choice: he’s now already, by the deed of (unspoken) sex, married to Fanny. Beatrice makes a brief religious argument. Then Fanny enters, listens to the parents plan her marriage, and stunningly steps forth with her position. And that’s all I’ll tell you. The climax is startling and worthy of our age, a gift from playwright Houghton, citizen of a Britain in social turmoil as women struggle for the vote, gaining it in part in 1918. Rest assured that Hindle wakes.
Beatrice’s father, Farrar (Brian Reddy) and Jeffcote (Jonathan Hogan) argue money, like businessmen. Jeffcote, in particular, is most clearly the spokesman for the appropriate ethics of his time, and Hawthorn (Ken Marks) strongly supports his daughter. Mrs. Hawthorn (Sandra Shipley) and Mrs. Jeffcote (Jill Tanner) present their ideas reflecting love for their children. And those children, Fanny (Rebecca Noelle Brinkley), Alan (Jeremy Beck), and Beatrice (Emma Geer) speak eloquently and deeply about all that matters to them. And the maid Ada (Sara Carolynn Kennedy) has her clear and dear moments of modesty, humor and awareness of humble position. This is a company of great actors, due much congratulations on their masterful craft.
Directed with clarity and sensitivity by Gus Kaikkonen, the sets, stunningly simple, evocative of time and place by Charles Morgan, lovely costumes by Sam Fleming, sound and original music by Jane Shaw, this play deserves our attention. It is a descendent of Ibsen and owes much to that master of realistic social argument, the theatrical presentation of ideas.
As for the Mint Theater Company, I leave you first with praise of it from Ben Brantley of The New York Times who calls it “Resurrectionist extraordinaire of forgotten plays;” and second with the hope that you’ll visit the town of Hindle, now in residence at the Clurman Theatre.
(Photo by Todd Cerveris)