Mint Theater Presents MEET MISS BAKER
Mint Artistic Director Jonathan Bank today announced "Meet Miss Baker," Mint's latest effort in its ongoing commitment to create new life for neglected women playwrights. From Pulitzer-Prize winning plays by Zona Gale and Susan Glaspell, to forgotten works by Rachel Crothers, Cicely Hamilton, Githa Sowerby, Hazel Ellis, Maurine Dallas Watkins, Lillian Hellman, Rose Franken and Dawn Powell, Mint has long been a champion of neglected plays by women. Up next is English playwright Elizabeth Baker, who will receive three productions, each getting their American premiere, over the next two years.
Meet Miss Baker will follow in the pattern of the Mint's internationally lauded "Deevy Project," which demonstrated the impact that even a small organization can have with big ambitions and persistent effort. Teresa Deevy had all but slipped from memory, even in her native Ireland - until the Mint came to her rescue with a four-production, two-publication effort to resurrect her work and reputation, leading to international attention. In September 2017 The Irish Times extolled the Mint's efforts in a feature story under the headline: "The New York Theatre That's Kept Teresa Deevy's Flame Alive."
Meet Miss Baker will illuminate the insight, complexity, and range of Elizabeth Baker's body of work, introducing new audiences to the adventurous life and expansive work of this rule-breaking typist-turned-playwright. Startling her contemporaries with her rapid rise from "obscure stenographer making five dollars a week" to "one of the most widely discussed playwrights in London" (The Christian Science Monitor), Baker created a theatrical sensation in 1909 with her drama Chains - "a remarkable play," The Times declared, "-all the more remarkable if, as we believe, it is the first its author has written."
Meet Miss Baker will begin with The Price of Thomas Scott, about a businessman who hesitates to sell his shop for conversion into a dance hall, because he considers dancing immoral. Baker's comic-drama poses probing questions about prejudice, principles, pretense and progress. The Price of Thomas Scott has had only one production (at the Gaiety Theatre in Manchester, 1913). The Guardian praised Baker's "very considerable merits as a dramatist," and her "careful realism...a minute study of the surface detail of life, leaving the audience to draw what conclusions they liked from what was before them." The Era agreed, describing the play as a "delightful piece of realistic drama...There is much interest and food for thought in the picture of Thomas Scott."
Mint will follow Thomas Scott with overlapping productions of two Baker plays at two theaters within Theater Row in the summer of 2020. This Theatre Row twin bill will include Baker's surprising comedy Partnership, about an ambitious professional woman who receives a tempting business proposition, and Baker's claim to fame, Chains. In between and continuing beyond, Mint will present readings of many of her other plays. Publication of Elizabeth Baker Reclaimed will coincide with the Baker twin bill in 2020.
Elizabeth Baker grew up in a strict, religious household "and as a young girl, she never read plays nor was she taken to see them," according to a 1927 feature in This Week in London.
"She first started going to the theatre during Granville Baker's tenancy at the Court  and was so much inspired by the productions there that she attempted to write a play herself. 'I was absolutely ignorant about the theatre, but I think I had a feeling for dramatic pictures. I sent my first attempt, a one-act play, to Lena Ashwell's company, and Mr. Knoblock wrote to me about it and praised it, and suggested that I should try and write a long play. This I did, and Chains was the result.'"
The Play Actors, an independent stage society, presented Chains for a single performance on April 18, 1909-making Baker literally an overnight success. The Globe joined The Times in calling Chains "a remarkable play. It is the first effort of one who, we understand, is a typewriter, without any experience of the theatre, and yet this tragi-comedy of humble suburban life, with its keen sense of drama, its clever character drawings and its feeling for the stage, is a work which many a tried writer would be very glad to own as author."
Although Baker produced varied and original work throughout the 1910s and '20s at such innovative independent theaters as Annie Horniman's Gaiety Theatre in Manchester and Barry Jackson's Birmingham Repertory Theatre, she struggled to attract commercial audiences after her initial success. Even during the height of critical acclaim for Chains, Baker's reception - and place in the British theatrical canon - may have been negatively affected by class, age, and gender biases. Although Baker was thirty-two-years old when the Play Actors premiered Chains, many reviews referred to her in such terms as "a young girl," "a girl stenographer of little literary training," "a girl clerk," and a "girl-novice." Other critics assumed that, despite Baker's relative inexperience writing for the stage, she merely possessed the "trick of observation" in transcribing her lower-middle-class roots. The Graphic assumed a "simple sincerity which once again proves that on the stage, above all places, honesty is the best policy," while downplaying Baker's creative imagination, skill, and craftsmanship.
Furthermore, derogatory coverage of Baker's appearance, and her unwillingness to perform to Cinderella-like expectations of class mobility and feminine glamour, may have hindered her professional advancement in the West End theater. When Baker appeared to tumultuous applause at the opening night of Chains at the Court Theatre, The Sun's critic reported:
At the end of the play, the audience insisted upon seeing its author and in answer to repeated calls, stepped upon the stage a little, shrinking, timid woman, very pale of face and with distended, fear-filled eyes. She wore an ill-fitting, tasteless gown, obviously homemade, and in herself was the prototype of all she had written about in her play-drudgery, the daily struggle with poverty, and the monotony of a life ugly and colorless. To the credit of the audience, it could be said they cheered her to the end.
For The Price of Thomas Scott Mr. Bank directs a cast that features Donald Corren, Andrew Fallaize, Emma Geer, Josh Goulding, Mitchell Greenberg, Nick LaMedica, Jay Russell, Tracy Sallows, Mark Kenneth Smaltz, Ayana Workman, and Arielle Yoder beginning performances January 24th and continuing through March 23rd at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street). Opening Night is set for February 20th.
The Price of Thomas Scott will have scenic design by Vicki R. Davis; costume design by Hunter Kazcorowski; lighting design by Christian DeAngelis; sound design by Jane Shaw; and prop design by Chris Fields. Casting is by Stephanie Klapper, CSA.
Performances of The Price of Thomas Scott will be Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30pm with matinees Saturday & Sunday at 2pm. No performance on Tuesday February 5th, with Special Added Matinees at 2pm on February 6th, 13th and March 20th. All performances will take place at Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street, between 9th and Dyer Avenues). Tickets for The Price of Thomas Scott will be $65.00 (including $2.25 theater restoration fee) and can be purchased online at Telecharge.com, by phone at 212-239-6200 or in person at the Theatre Row Box Office.
"Thank heaven for the unwavering commitment of Jonathan Bank, the theatrical archaeologist whose Mint Theater Company unearths long-forgotten plays and imbues them with new life," declared The New York Times in response to a recent Mint production.
For more information, including photos and videos of Mint productions, visit minttheater.org.