Lillian Hellman threw up on the opening night of Days to Come in 1936. Critics and audiences apparently followed her lead. (The play closed after seven performances.)
Days to Come certainly isn’t what you would call vomit-inducing. But as a follow-up to Hellman’s whip-smart, lies- and scandal-driven drama The Children’s Hour, Days is definitely a disappointing head-scratcher. And the Mint Theater Company’s current production doesn’t make a convincing case for its resurrection.
The biggest problem, apologies to Ms. Hellman, is simply the play itself, which, even almost 100 years on, is in the midst a major identity crisis. It’s about a strike at a brush factory, but we never go inside the factory or see the picket line. It’s about the class differences between the factory owners, brother and sister Andrew and Cora Rodman (Larry Bull and Mary Bacon), and the workers—but we meet only one worker, Tom Firth (Chris Henry Coffey), plus a union organizer, Leo Whalen (Roderick Hill). It’s about a husband and wife, Andrew and Julie (Janie Brookshire), who hardly see each other and talk to each other even less. “I always thought loneliness meant alone, without people,” he tells her before she goes on yet another aimless walkabout. “It means something else.” In short, it’s a play about a lot of things.
We know Hellman is pro-worker and pro-union because she makes Whalen mysterious, smooth-talking, and just a little seductive. And because she brings in a trio of fresh-from-central-casting thugs as strikebreakers. They even have proper gangster-style names like Wilkie (Dan Daily), Mossie (Geoffrey Allen Murphy), and Easter (Evan Zes).
But there are no chest-thumping speeches, no stirring rallying cries. (Though Whelan does get pretty pumped up about cheap scotch.) Using the strike as a backdrop is a fine, if curious, choice—as long as something in the foreground is compelling and eye-catching. And none of these characters are. Andrew—who couldn’t buy a clue with the 60 cents per hour that his workers are demanding—actually believes those pinstriped goons are there to keep his assembly line moving. No wonder his family business is tanking.
As expected, the Mint has supplied a handsome production: smart period costumes by Andrea Varga; well-appointed sets by Harry Feiner; jazzy between-scene bursts of music by Jane Shaw. But the acting is surprisingly uneven. Only Hill and Bacon—furrowing her brow and pursing her lips perfectly as the cuckoo Cora—seem truly comfortable in their roles. Bull looks almost disoriented as the naive Andrew. And Brookshire is barely scratching the surface of the intriguing, inscrutable Julie. At one point, Wilkie says to her: “You’re a noble lady, and I’m frightened of noble ladies. They usually land the men they know in cemeteries.” Brookshire’s Julie doesn’t look like she could even find a cemetery.
The Mint has built its brand on mining diamonds in the rough and polishing them to gleaming perfection: Stanley Houghton’s Hindle Wakes in 2018, N.C. Hunter’s A Day by the Sea in 2016, Ferenc Molnar’s Fashions for Men in 2015, Martha Gellhorn and Virginia Cowles’ female war-correspondent comedy Love Goes to Press in 2012 (one of the Mint’s best), to name a few. But some stones should just be left underground.
Days to Come opened Aug. 26, 2018, and runs through Oct. 6 at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row. Tickets and information: minttheater.org