Photo Flash: Mint Theatre Company's A LITTLE JOURNEY
The Drama Desk and OBIE Award-winning Mint Theater Company will present Rachel Crothers's comedy, A Little Journey, opening Monday June 6th at the Mint's home in the heart of the theater district, 311 West 43rd Street.
Jackson Gay directs a cast that features Laurie Birmingham, Jennifer Blood, McCaleb Burnett, Anthony L. Gaskins, Ben Hollandsworth, Victoria Mack, Joey Parsons, Rosemary Prinz, Doug Rees, Ben Roberts, Chet Siegel, Samantha Soule, John Wernke and Craig Wroe. A Little Journey will have set design by Roger Hanna, costume design by Martha Hally, lighting design by Paul Whitaker, and sound design by Jane Shaw.
A Little Journey was a nominee for the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Crothers' legacy was largely forgotten until the Mint revived her Susan and God in 2006 to great acclaim: "A voice that remains fresh," lauded The New York Times, while Terry Teachout wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "It is a major event, a pitch perfect production of a 69-year-old play whose subject matter is so modern in flavor that it could have been written last week."
Set entirely on a westbound train over the course of a four day trip, A Little Journey tells the story of Julie Rutherford, a proud but broKen Young woman who believes that things cannot possibly get any worse-until disaster strikes. "A compelling human story of love and sorrow" was how the Washington Post greeted the play, which, in the grand tradition of travelogues, showcases an eccentric and charming array of passengers: there's the auburn-topped lady from New York, excruciatingly funny in her ultra-sophistication and yet human; there are two young college lads, awkward, yet lovable; there's the sweet young girl, traveling with her deaf grandma; the self-centered plutocrat who travels in the drawing room; an unmarried mother; Jim West, the big-hearted Westerner; and Julie Rutherford, the girl who finds real life after having been hedged about and bound by conventions and traditions. Julie's down on her luck, and Jim is a lonely rancher who's survived his own troubled life journey. Jim falls in love, but Julie sinks deeper into despair...until a dangerous detour gives them an unexpected chance at happiness.
"A simple moving story deftly and very convincingly told" wrote John Corbin in the New York Times, while in the New York World Charles Darnton deemed the play "by far the finest play Miss Crothers has written" praising its "simple human feeling." She was inspired to write the play while riding on a train, struck by how travel "brought together such characters as I required." This Little Journey happens somewhere every day, and it means merely a bundle of humanity tied together by circumstances, each part of the bundle struggling to keep itself free and separate by the force of its own tremendous ego, but finally melted into a common whole by forces stronger than selfishness.
A Little Journey ran for 252 performances on Broadway, transferring from the Little Theater to the Vanderbilt during its run. The New York Herald reported audiences were so moved they lingered in their seats afterward "to cling to the men and women of Miss Crothers' imagination as one would hold onto friends." After Broadway, A Little Journey toured the country, making notable stops in Washington and Chicago. In 1927, it was made into a silent film (now lost) starring Harry Carey, Billy Haines, and Claire Windsor. A handful of amateur and stock productions followed in the 1920s and ‘30s, but then the train stopped.... And A Little Journey hasn't been seen since.
Rachel Crothers (1878-1958) was among America's most successful and produced playwrights during the first three decades of the twentieth century. Nearly 30 of her plays opened on Broadway between 1906 and 1937. "Although it rare now to find anyone who has heard of her," wrote the New York Times in 1980, "Miss Crothers at the apex of her career was a symbol of success in the commercial theater." Crothers' first Broadway success was with the melodrama The Three Of Us in 1906. While more sensational than her later work, The Three of Us hinted at Crothers' interest in strong women characters and social concerns. Her best work would recast the European "problem play" in a distinctly American idiom, with richly drawn characters and sparkling dialogue. A Man's World (1910), heralded by one New York critic as the "first great American play," followed a young woman's struggle to establish an artistic career while raising an adopted son. Nice People (1921) examined the flapper phenomenon through the eyes of three young women and provided Katharine Cornell and Tallulah Bankhead with their first important roles. In Susan and God (1937), a socialite discovers the difference between public façade and personal faith while reconciling with her husband and daughter. Crothers directed her own work. Her consistently high standards helped professionalize the role of director in American theater. She was also a dedicated philanthropist. She helped found many important charities, including the American Theater Wing for War Relief (established 1940), which evolved into today's American Theater Wing. By the late 1940s, Crothers' comedies fell out of fashion. She continued writing, but she did not produce any new plays, preferring to focus on her charity work. She died in her sleep on July 5, 1958. The Times wrote in her obituary "She was as skillful as she was prolific. Miss Crothers mixed an enormous amount of common sense with smooth craftsmanship and a rare knowledge of and faith in human nature."
Mint Theater Company, "that truffle hound of half-buried treasures from the past" (Village Voice), has a celebrated reputation for re-discovering worthy but neglected gems and has brought new vitality to timeless but timely plays since 1992. The Mint was awarded an OBIE for "combining the excitement of discovery with the richness of tradition." Mint was awarded a special Drama Desk Award for "unearthing, presenting and preserving forgotten plays of merit."
Performances for A Little Journey will be Tuesday through Thursday at 7 PM, Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM, and Sunday at 2 PM. Tickets are $55. All performances will take place on the Third Floor of 311 West 43rd Street. Tickets are available by calling the Mint box office at 212/315-0231 or go to www.minttheater.org
And, introducing a new inexpensive way to discover Mint productions - CHEAP TIX: Everyone appreciates a bargain, especially these days. Mint Theater Company is now offering a limited number of seats for every performance at half-price ($27.50).
Photo Credit: Richard Termine