Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Corn is Green"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Carl A. Rossi


"THE CORN IS GREEN"

by Emlyn Williams
directed by Nicholas Martin

John Goronwy Jones … Roderick McLachlan
Miss Ronberry … Kathy McCafferty
Idwal Morris … Jared Craig
Sarah Pugh …Bobbie Steinbach
A Groom … Patrick James Lynch
The Squire … Will LeBow
Bessie Watty … Mary Faber
Mrs. Watty … Kristine Nielsen
Miss Moffat … Kate Burton
Morgan Evans … Morgan Ritchie
Robbart Robbatch … Dan Lovley
Glyn Thomas … Michael Moran
Will Hughes … Brian Vaughan
John Owen … Danny Bryck
Old Tom … Stephen Gabis

VILLAGERS:
Lizzie Bassett; Andy Blaustein; Eliza Fichter;
Daniel George; Abigail Gillian; Zachary LeClair;
Farrell Parker; Raquel Sandler; Sophie Sinclair;
Jordan Ben Sobel; Derek St. Pierre; Greg Stone

The late Terrance Rattigan’s Aunt Edna --- his fictional maiden aunt for whom he wrote his plays; the lady who didn’t know theatre but who knew what she liked --- would have found Heaven on Earth at the Huntington with its tasteful productions and its revivals of chestnuts from her own era (the 1930s-50s); when I was an early teen, I saw a high school production of Emlyn Williams’ THE CORN IS GREEN (how those senior class actors looked like grown-ups, to me!), and it’s good to see, once again, this semi-autobiographical tale of Miss Moffat, a feisty Victorian schoolmarm who brings education, enlightenment and the English language to the grimy children of a Welsh coalmining village --- in particular, one Morgan Evans, her most promising student (no doubt, Mr. Williams, himself). For theatre artists, it’s also good to see the carpentry of an old-fashioned, well-made play with its single setting, its opening dusting scene, the prepared-for entrance of the leading lady, the comic secondary characters, the balance of laughter and seriousness, a dozen actors chewing up the scenery, and its two intermissions. That said, the Huntington production soon vanishes from memory as they often do, the fault always being that blasted big barn of a stage: the set designers are obliged to fill it clear up to the flies, resulting in a puffed-up mise-en-scene with no mood or flavor to it; here, Mr. Williams’ humble living-room becomes James Noone’s ski lodge, complete with skylight and a sense of air-conditioning about the place. Nor is there anything particularly Victorian, Welsh or grimy about Nicholas Martin’s ensemble: the coalmining students are healthy-looking and chorus-cute and judging by the way the actresses plunge about, I doubt they’ve been strapped into corsets. Mr. Martin’s direction is slick and professional, with pace taking precedence over characterization and its comedy punched up relentlessly lest the audience drift off in a sea of talking heads --- too bad, for under a smaller proscenium Kristine Nielsen and Mary Faber as the light-fingered cook and her minx of a daughter could still steal the show yet remain in period --- here, they mug most amusingly, but they still mug. (Do today’s male directors no longer know how to make their actresses, “womanly”?) Will LeBow nowadays shuttles between the Huntington and the A.R.T. with ease; his comic gifts squeeze quite a bit of mirth from the one-note squire --- may he not continue to wallow, though, in his popularity with Huntington audiences as he does here. But what a pleasure to hear Mr. LeBow’s clear, edgy voice fill the house without strain compared to Roderick McLachlan and Kathy McCafferty who declaim with muffled instruments, throughout, as Miss Moffat’s colleagues; they concentrate so much on being heard that their characterizations fly out Mr. Noone’s sparkling-clean windows.

The late Ethel Barrymore chose THE CORN IS GREEN as her farewell vehicle from the stage; thus, a sense of occasion is embedded in the script: what better way for a beloved old actress to begin her swan song than by entering upon a bicycle? When Kate Burton, still youngish, enters on wheels, the effect goes for nothing (though she gets her applause, all the same). Miss Moffat calls for a larger-than-life personality that can sweep all before her; Ms. Burton’s strength is an hostess-glow which in the evening’s quiet moments is compelling, even moving; otherwise, she is obliged to bustle about and her Moffat becomes a pest rather than a force of nature. (If only Mr. LeBow could tuck her into his pocket when he heads back to the A.R.T. --- think of the topsy-turvy, then!) The evening’s selling point is having Ms. Burton play against her own son, Morgan Ritchie, as Morgan Evans; the parent-child doubling as teacher-student. Unfortunately, Mr. Ritchie makes a soft, plodding Evans, though their final scene together evokes the poignancy required for Robert Anderson’s TEA AND SYMPATHY, that now-reviled landmark where a schoolmaster’s wife tenderly gives herself to a tormented student to prove he’s not queer. Not only is the Huntington the perfect theatre-museum to stage Mr. Anderson’s play, it would have the frisson of incest were Ms. Burton and Mr. Ritchie cast as the leads --- an event that would have Aunt Edna and the rest of the Huntington audience dining on it, for weeks….

"The Corn is Green" (9 January-8 February 2009)
HUNTINGTON THEATRE COMPANY
264 Huntington Avenue, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 266-0800

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