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BWW Review: Casual Sex Meets Edwardian Morals in Stanley Houghton's HINDLE WAKES

All too often, the word "dated" is misguidedly used to diminish the impact a play of a bygone era can have on contemporary audiences. Take, for example, the puritanical attitude towards pre-marital sex expressed by many of the characters in English playwright Stanley Houghton's social commentary, HINDLE WAKES, which premiered in Manchester in 1912 and crossed the ocean to Broadway before the year was done.

BWW Review:  Casual Sex Meets Edwardian Morals in Stanley Houghton's HINDLE WAKES
Jeremy Beck and Rebecca Noelle Brinkley
(Photo: Todd Cerveris)

As proved by director Gus Kaikkonen's enchanting new Mint Theater Company production, this intimate piece that dares to suggest that young women can retain their respectability while enjoying the benefits of casual sex was quite a shocker at the time, prompting Oxford University to bar students from attending performances.

Today it serves as a fascinating museum piece showing early 20th Century signs of the changing attitudes that will alter perceptions of morality for the next 100 years.

Set in a fictitious mill town named Hindle, the double-edged title refers to the tradition of wakes weeks, when a community's tradesmen would go on holiday, often for healthful, restorative stays by the sea.

Mill worker Fanny Hawthorn (excellent Rebecca Noelle Brinkley) returns home from a weekend she supposedly spent having innocent fun with her best girlfriend, but, due to unexpected circumstances, her parents know that she was really enjoying a hotel room romp with Alan Jeffcote (Jeremy Beck), the son of the mill owner.

Father (Ken Marks) is angry, but mother (Sandra Shipley) is horrified, certain that no decent man would ever marry her now. The fine conviction with which both actors play the parents' confrontation with their daughter brings home the grave seriousness of this predicament that 1912 audiences must have related to.

The elder Hawthorns agree that they must inform the Jeffcotes of what happened and insist on a marriage to make things right.

BWW Review:  Casual Sex Meets Edwardian Morals in Stanley Houghton's HINDLE WAKES
Brian Reddy and Jonathan Hogan
(Photo: Todd Cerveris)

The scene then switches to the Jeffcotes' home, where Alan's quietly authoritative father Nathaniel (great work by Jonathan Hogan) learns of the escapade and threatens his son's inheritance if he doesn't break off his engagement to the strictly moral Beatrice Farrar (Emma Geer) and marry Fanny. Nathaniel brought himself up from poverty to wealth and he won't have his son abusing his privilege.

Besides, he's lifelong friends with Fanny's father, despite their financial differences. Nathaniel assumes that Beatrice's father (a jolly and gregarious Brian Reddy) will be happy to end the engagement once he learns of Alan's infidelity, but it isn't long before each adult has their say about the matter, bringing up issues of class structure, social expectations and sexual stereotypes.

But it's Fanny and Beatrice who take control of the situation, one with her devotion to her morals and the other with her belief in sexual freedom.

The terrific company plays without a hint of contemporary commentary, allowing the adventurous spirit of HINDLE WAKES to provide an invigorating theatrical debate.

One of Off-Broadway's most valuable theater companies, The Mint devotes every season to mounting plays that were notable in their time, but are now rarely done. This time they've polished up a real gem.

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From This Author Michael Dale