A Little Journey

By Rachel Crothers
Directed by Jackson Gay
Featuring Laurie Birmingham, Rosemary Prinz, Samantha Soule
Mint Theater Company, 311 West 43rd Street
production web site: http://www.minttheater.org/onstage/current.html

May 12, 2011 — July 10, 2011

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
June 5, 2011

A “lost play” from 1918 that hasn’t been on stage for decades now occupies the small Mint Theater stage, mechanized delightfully for two of three acts.  Two acts present a conventional travel journey and a final act wraps up plot ends with a traumatic event and tidy social engineering that does not deliver on the promise of the first two acts — births and rebirths and pulling-together-in-catastrophe and people coming into themselves in a manner that reflects the era rather than the enchanting possibilities.  The direction is fluid and functional and sometimes entrancing (Jackson Gay), the sets are visually and mechanically choreographed (Roger Hanna), and costumes (Martha Hally) are true to period and lovely.  Crothers’ humor and plotting are delightful to see on stage. While some elements are surprisingly modern, others are stuffily, stultifyingly of their time.  Must all of the feminist possibilities be wrapped up in such conventional trappings by journey’s end?  Yet this was written in 1918 and in the end, this is a worthy voyage with this acting company.

From Odysseus to Norse sagas to Caucer‘s Canterbury pilgrims to Agatha Christie‘s Murder on the Orient Express to the Beat bible The End of the Road, from myths of all civilizations and some of the best of contemporary theatre and literature, journeys are a fabulous framework for drama on stage and screen and page.  Crothers utilizes the framing device ably, placing her fifteen characters in A Little Journey on a train over a few days in 1914, traveling west out of New York City.  A few characters appear simply to flounce about and illustrate high-class attitude (Kittie played by Victoira Mack and Ethel played by Joey Parsons), or to illustrate the man of limited means who got away (Alfred played by John Wernke).  The New Yorker bidding her swanning friends good-bye, our heroine Julie (Samantha Soule), travels west to an uncertain future.  Settled nearby is a young single mother (Jennifer Blood), sharing her coach with  burly Jim (McCaleb Burnett).  Neighboring Julie on the other side is rich, funny, entitled Mrs. Welch (Laurie Birmingham).  Further along on the circular set of seats representing individual train cars are a grandmother (Rosemary Prinz) and granddaughter (Chet Siegel) duo who provide deaf old person, and youthful energy humor most of the train ride.

Parentage, class boundaries, the limited range of women’s roles, and the romance of the American West are all themes touched upon.  Grab your traveling clothes and come along for a ride.

© Martha Wade Steketee (June 7, 2011)

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