Robert Tanitch reviews Lillian Hellman’s Days to Come on line

Robert Tanitch reviews Lillian Hellman’s Days to Come on line

Mint Theatre, Off-Broadway, specialises in reviving lost and forgotten plays from the early 20th century. They have been going since 1992. Their production values are high and over the next six months they will be showing six of their plays on line.

They start with one of America’s leading playwrights, Lillian Hellman, who is famed not only for her plays, but also for her faulty memoirs, her left-wing activism and her long-term 30 year on/off affair with detective novelist Dashiell Hammet.

Hellman made her Broadway debut in 1934, aged 29, with The Children’s Hour which ran for 691 performances and she would have won the Pulitzer Prize, had it not been for the lesbian context. Her second play, Days to Come in 1936, ran for only seven performances.

Her third play, Little Foxes in 1939, her masterpiece, ran for 410 performances. If you have never seen Little Foxes, watch the 1941 William Wyler film with Bette Davis in the lead role.

Days to Come is set during the Great Depression in a small town in Ohio. The town’s wealthiest family owns a brush factory. The workers are on strike for higher wages, which the factory’s boss cannot afford to pay. He, too, is in financial difficulties and employs strike-breakers with tragic results.

Lillian Hellman blamed the 1936 failure on the production, the actors and herself. ‘I wanted,’ she said, ‘to say too much.’ There are too many characters and the social and marital grievances are clumsily written and over melodramatic. The first thing she could and should have done was to get rid of the two henchmen whose behaviour is more suited to a farce or a musical.

The production, directed by J R Sullivan, dates from 2018 and has good performances by Larry Ball as the decent but ineffectual boss, Roderick Hill as the union organiser, Chris Henry Coffey as a hard-hit worker, and Dan Daily as the rogue strike-breaker boss.

I am looking forward to seeing the other plays Mint Theatre is streaming over the next months. You can find our more at their website by following this link.

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