Off-Broadway Review: THE DAUGHTER-IN-LAW (Mint Theater)

Post image for Off-Broadway Review: THE DAUGHTER-IN-LAW (Mint Theater)

by Kevin Vavasseur on February 28, 2022

in Theater-New York

A 1913 PLAY IN MINT CONDITION

In a coal-mining district in the Erewash Valley of the English Midlands, lives a young miner named Luther. Luther has been married to his hyper-critical bride Minnie for all of seven weeks. Luther’s father is dead but his domineering mother, Mrs. Gascoyne, is very much alive. His younger brother Joe just injured his arm on a mining job and doesn’t have any other income. Luther is not what one would call an ambitious man. He married Minnie because she asked him. And, as Minnie told Luther in the heat of argument, she only married him because she couldn’t do any better. And just today, Luther found out that a dalliance he had with Mrs. Purdy’s youngest daughter before he was engaged has left the trusting eighteen year old pregnant. At this moment, Luther’s life is not a happy one.

TOM COINER (Luther) and AMY BLACKMAN (Minnie)

While this may sound like elements from one of the Angry Young Man plays that transformed the British theater in the 1960s, it is not. This play is titled The Daughter-In-Law and was written by famed novelist D.H. Lawrence in 1913. The play was never produced in Lawrence’s lifetime but was later hailed by some as “one of the great British dramas of the twentieth century. Judging by the deceptively simple though incredibly powerful production produced by The Mint Theater Company and currently running at New York City Center II, it may very well be.

POLLY MCKIE (Mrs. Purdy) and TOM COINER (Luther)

Director Martin Platt has delivered a taut, lean, detailed production of this psychologically ahead-of-its-time play. What’s most fascinating about this show is the almost clinical accuracy with which Lawrence paints a picture of a family dynamic now referred to as covert incest or enmeshment. Often derided as “mama’s boys”, Lawrence unflinchingly reveals the pain and loss caused by this type of familial relationship — pain and loss for the sons, mothers and, in the focus of this play, the wives of these fundamentally unavailable men.

SANDRA SHIPLEY (Mrs. Gascoyne) and CIARAN BOWLING (Joe)

In the title role of Minnie (i.e. The Daughter-in-Law), Amy Blackman displays an impressive depth of restraint, intelligence and raw, underlying emotion. She has the facility to simultaneously hold multiple feelings within her body along with the transparency to reveal all to the audience. As a young woman trying to free the man she loves (yes, she does indeed love Luther) from a half-life spent in emotional service to his mother, Blackman offers a beautifully paced arc of frustration, realization, determination to call it as she sees it (and does she ever) then, astoundingly, love for all, including Luther’s mother.

TOM COINER (Luther) and AMY BLACKMAN (Minnie)

As the somewhat dim Luther, Tom Coiner shines. Another talented, powerful and transparent actor, he matches Blackman toe-to-toe as they fight, tease, hurt and care for each other throughout the evening. It is truly heartbreaking when Coiner finally realizes just how much his relationship with his mother has limited his life. And, in a reaction that drew gasps from the audience, Coiner shocks with an emotional gut-punch in his immediate rejection of that realization, storming off in a frightful mixture of rage, pain, fear and despair.

SANDRA SHIPLEY (Mrs. Gascoyne)

Ciaran Bowling is charming as Luther’s younger brother, the blowhard Joe. He’s also been negatively affected by his mother’s neediness but he has an inner fire that is seemingly impervious to his mother’s demands. Bowling skillfully straddles that line and we look forward to this ball of energy and foolhardiness finally breaking free. Polly Mckie is all country charm with a bit of sass as family friend Mrs. Purdy. Clear-eyed about the world and protective of her pregnant daughter’s interests, McKie also fills her character with a touching insecurity that let’s us know that standing up for what’s right is not exactly easy for Mrs. Purdy. As Mrs. Gascoyne, the mother of both Luther and Joe, Sandra Shipley embodies the overall difficultly of life in that environment as well as the joys and challenges of being a mother. What may be missing in her solid performance is a stronger connection to the reasons why Mrs, Gascoyne became the type of mother she did, even if she did so unconsciously. When confronted by Minnie with what she has done, Shipley seems to shrug off the accusation as just words that don’t have any impact her. Though that may be a reaction in itself.

SANDRA SHIPLEY (Mrs. Gascoyne) and AMY BLACKMAN (Minnie)

Bill Clarke has created a lovely, period, two-wall set in the smallish, rectangular theater space. This opened ended design allows the audience to feel as if we are in the world of the play, not separated by seating. Jeff Nellis’s soft lighting design also takes good advantage of the intimate playing area. The overall light feels practical, whether from lamps or moonlight, painting everything in a warm, slightly sepia glow. Guided by dialect coach Amy Stoller, all the actors excel in using an authentic Ilson dialect, though it is a bit difficult to understand at first for those of us not familiar with this way of speaking.

This is an intense production that offers a cathartic release facilitated by the power of love. Those making the journey to the Erewash Valley will be met with a multi-dimensional portrait of a difficult and often misunderstood family dynamic … and also get to see what may be one of the great British dramas of the twentieth century.

photos by Maria Baranova

The Daughter-In-Law
The Mint Theater Company
New York City Center Stage II, 131 W 55th St (between 6th & 7th avenues)
Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri & Sat at 7:30 pm; Wed, Sat & Sun at 2:30
ends on March 20, 2022
for tickets, visit Mint

Comments on this entry are closed.