Bringing out ‘the pain underneath all that luster’

Director banking on a clean sweep of Monkhouse’s ‘Broome’

BY JERRY TALLMER  |   A photograph of Leonard Timbrell — a glittering young man in his late 20s — has disappeared. It is discovered in the hands of Mary Broome, the demure, attractive Timbrell housemaid who has been shocked by finding several packed suitcases in Leonard’s room.

When Leonard’s father (an old-school Manchester businessman) demands an explanation of the lost and found photograph, the discreet housemaid says: “I had the right to it if anyone had.”

“You took it from his Mother’s room?” Mr. Timbrell thunders.

“Well, I shall be a Mother soon,” Mary Broome quietly replies. And thus begins a very beautiful play indeed, the 1911 “Mary Broome” by Manchester’s own Allan Noble Monkhouse (1858-1936), now rediscovered for America by Off-Broadway’s Mint Theater.

That is what the Mint does — rediscovers lost or forgotten plays, most recently “Love Goes to Press,” by Martha Gellhorn and Virginia Cowles.

“Mary Broome” is a very different cup of tea.

Though it was billed by its author as “a comedy in four acts,” it is a very leathery comedy indeed and will leave you — as it left me — with an ache, not a laugh.

Leonard Timbrell, you see, for all his wit, charm, insight, lightness of touch, pity for his own mother, hostility toward father, contempt for older brother Edgar (a square who has equal and opposite scorn for Leonard) — for all that, Leonard, in his own words, is a brute and a rotter and in anyone’s words, a no-goodnik who runs away (on a three-week fishing trip!) when the milkman and grocer demand payment, the baby is looking peaked and needs a doctor, and Mary is putting up a brave face to her own working-class mother and father, an unemployed cabman after 29 years, what with those damned motorized taxis making horse and carriage cabs obsolete.

Allan Monkhouse was an all-purpose writer and playwright and for many years a columnist on the Manchester Guardian.  He was born two years after Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), and Shaw’s immortal “Pygmalion” opened in London in 1912. I see an identity in spirit and some detail — even the horse-drawn cab — though Jonathan Bank, I think, does not. But certainly Mary’s father Mr. Broome (the “e” tacked on by him for gentility) and Alfred Doolittle are brothers under the skin.

Mary Broome the housemaid has had advantages street flower girl Eliza Doolittle never had till Henry Higgins came along. On the other hand, Eliza, so far as we know, never got herself knocked up. One of the most appealing aspects of Mary’s character is, indeed, that she doesn’t just blame Leonard. “I’m to blame too,” she keeps saying. Takes two to tango.

But “Mary Broome” rings far more bells than just “Pygmalion.” I think of all those plays-into-movies — plays of manners — that I loved in the 1940s, ’50s, and since: “Holiday,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Hobson’s Choice,” “Sabrina Fair,” “I Know Where I’m Going” and on and on. Even that French-Viennese classic of inter-sexual social classes, Max Ophuls’ and Arthur Schnitzler’s “La Ronde.”

“Mary Broome” last played New York in 1919 at the Neighborhood Playhouse, then down at Grand Street on the Lower East Side. It can now be seen through October 14 at the Mint Theater.

Leonard Timbrell is played by Roderick Hill, brother Edgar by Rod Brogan, Mr. Timbrell by Graeme Malcolm, Mrs. Timbrell by Kristin Griffith, Mr. Broome by Douglas Rees, and Mary — lovely, lonely Mary Broome — by Janie Brookshire.

It wasn’t Jonathan Bank who discovered “Mary Broome” (although Bank was familiar with the work of Allan Monkhouse). It was Bank’s friend Sam Walters, artistic director of suburban London’s Orange Tree Theatre. Bank and his wife, actress Katie Firth, were at a production there in 2001 of “Mary Broome.” Halfway into it, Mrs. Bank turned to Mr. Bank and said: “You’re going to do this, aren’t you?”

Her husband said: “Wait a minute. Let’s see if he [playwright Monkhouse] can keep it up.”

He could and did — particularly in the scenes where unemployable Leonard, cut off by his enraged father from any income whatsoever, tries to scrabble 50 pounds, 20 pounds, 10 pounds, a sovereign, any spare change, from his mother, his detested brother, Mary’s unemployed father, anyone.

Leonard is really a rotter, isn’t he, this journalist remarked.

“Yes he is,” said the director. “I hope our production will bring out the pain underneath all that luster.”

George Truefit, the milkman, a character whom we meet only through the eyes and words of Mary, enters the picture this way:

MRS. TIMBRELL: Didn’t you tell me you were ‘keeping company’ with someone?

MARY: I was walking out, ma’am, I wasn’t keeping company.

LEONARD: I’m afraid I don’t appreciate the difference.

MARY: There is a difference.

So put that in your pipe and smoke it, you square Don Juan.

We shall hear more of George Truefit anon, as my mother would have said.

Jonathan Bank, born Columbus Day 1959 in Cleveland, Ohio, came to New York from Western Reserve University in 1986, took over the Mint Theater from a classmate in 1996, and has presented some 46 shows there since — “plays that people didn’t know how they ended, neglected plays.”

Of this one, he says:  “It’s certainly a tricky play. I think it can be shocking in a way. That it turns in a way the audience is not expecting. Our job is to make that possible.”

I don’t think housemaids handle brooms, but a new Broome sweeps clean.

MARY BROOME

Written by Allan Monkhouse
Directed by Jonathan Bank
At the Mint Theater (311 W. 43rd St., btw. 8th & 9th Aves.)
Sept. 10-Oct. 14 (currently in previews)
Tues.-Thurs., 7pm, Fri. & Sat., 8pm Matinees: Sat. & Sun. 2pm
For tickets ($27.50-$55), call 866-821-4111 or visit minttheater.org

 

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