While there’s nothing terribly wrong with Mint Theater Company’s current production of forgotten playwright Elizabeth Baker’s The Price of Thomas Scott at Theatre Row, there’s nothing particularly compelling about it either. It has a couple of very good performances, excellent period costumes, and a conflict around an issue that has no relevancy in today’s world.
The Price of Thomas Scott is set in the failing shop of an ultra-religious draper named Thomas Scott (Donald Corren) in London around 1912. His wife Ellen (Tracy Sallows) and daughter Annie (Emma Geer) both work in the shop. Annie does all the millinery work, trimming the hats, and her work is what is keeping the shop afloat. Thomas’ son Leonard (Nick LaMedica) is still in school. Thomas has had the shop up for sale for some time, but nobody is interested. As Annie mentions, the neighborhood boasts twenty-four draper’s shops.
Thomas’ main concern aside from the sale of his shop, is the activities of his “chapel.” He is extremely devout and very strict in his views. He does not believe in the theater, dancing, or drinking and of course forbids his children to indulge in any of those sinful activities. His dilemma arises when a lucrative offer is made for his shop when he is about to lose hope. The offer comes from a concern that wants to turn the shop, which is advantageously placed on a corner, into a genteel dancing hall.
The moral and ethical battle that Thomas has to struggle to resolve within himself between his real belief that dancing is sinful, and his desire and obligation to provide for his wife and children is clearly what made The Price of Thomas Scott an interesting work in its day. Unfortunately, the play is too firmly rooted in its day by language, custom and culture for it to be engrossing to modern audiences. And there’s nothing else to focus on – no witty banter or great romance.
Thankfully, the actors playing the two main characters, Emma Geer as Annie Scott and Donald Corren as Thomas Scott, give very fine performances. Natural and believable, they are both magnetic presences on stage and give energy and interest to whatever scene they are in. Which is helpful when you don’t understand the cultural references and it’s not quite clear who exactly some of the characters are. If you didn’t have these central characters and performances to home in on, things could get really grim.
I’m not quite sure why Mint chose to open its “Meet Miss Baker” series with this particular play. There are three more of her plays to come in this series. Hopefully, they’ll represent Miss Baker in a better light.
(Photo by Todd Cerveris)