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Paulanne Simmons

"A Picture of Autmn" is a very human tale of aging

George Morfogen, Paul Niebanck, Jill Tanner, Jonathan Hogan, Helen Cespedes and Katie Firth in A PICTURE OF AUTUMN by N.C. Hunter
Photo: Richard Termine

A Picture of Autumn
Directed by Gus Kaikkonen
Mint Theater Company
311 West 43 Street
From May 23, 2013
Tuesday–Thursday 7pm | Friday & Saturday 8pm, Saturday & Sunday 2pm. Special Wednesday Matinees: June 5 and July 3 at 2pm. No performances: June 4, June 11 and July 2
Tickets: $55 (866) 811-4111 or www.minttheater.org
Closes: July 14, 2013
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons June 8, 2013

Mint Theater Company has discovered a new lost “worthwhile play from the past.” The play in “A Picture of Autumn,” and it’s author is N.C. Hunter, one of England’s leading dramatist of the 1950s and early 1960s.

Unfortunately for Hunter, his naturalistic exploration of people living in the rapidly changing post-war era was soon replaced by the more controversial voices of writers such as John Osborne and Joe Orton. But Mint believes his plays are still worthwhile, and if the company’s production of “A Picture of Autumn,” directed by Gus Kaikkonen, is any indication, they are right.

“A Picture of Autumn” opens on a set depicting the living/dining room of the Denham’s ancestral home. A magnificent sweeping staircase dominates the stage, but it is soon revealed that this beautiful piece of architecture is actually decaying, as are the garden and the outbuildings.

In this house live Sir Charles Denham (Jonathan Hogan), Lady Margaret Denham (Jill Tanner) and Charles’ brother Harry Denham (George Morfogen), “three old upper-class anachronisms,” as Harry calls them, and the somewhat dotty Nurse (Barbara Eda-Young), the only help the family has retained. Lady Margaret is overburdened. Sir Charles likes to sleep when he is not doing chores in the village. Harry still hunts birds and lives with the memory of his long-dead wife. Nurse moves the dust around and makes tea.

Things are not going so well at the mansion, and the Denhams son, Robert (Paul Niebanck), a solid business man recently returned from abroad with his wife, Elizabeth (Katie Firth) and her daughter, the well-named Felicity (Helen Cespedes), decides it would be best to sell the house and move to smaller quarters.

Despite Robert’s good intentions and responsible actions, he is not nearly as well appreciated as his charming ne’er-do-well brother Frank (Christian Coulson). Even his wife is secretly more attracted to his brother.

“A Picture of Autumn,” in the style of its time, is a long, three-act play. There is no violence, no cursing and no sex. Yet it is riveting. This is partly because of the fine, naturalistic dialogue, but even more because of the excellent acting of every actor, including Kraig Swartz, who plays two minor roles.

Hogan and Tanner exhale simple human goodness and good breeding with every word they speak. Eda-Young is delightfully batty and outspoken. Niebanck is priggish and self-righteous throughout most of the play but takes a turn at the end that makes his character entirely sympathetic.

Perhaps most moving, however, is the relationship that develops between Felicity and Harry, beautifully portrayed by Morfogen and Cespedes. Morfogen is a Mint regular and a stage veteran, while Cespedes is making her New York debut. One would like to think the mentoring goes on offstage as well as on.

If “A Picture of Autumn” had been written in the 21st century. The Denhams would have sold their house, Frank and Elizabeth would have embarked on an affair, and it would have been discovered by the end of the play that Nurse has been stealing the china or blackmailing Sir Charles over an affair they had when she was still young and beautiful. And, despite that, the play might have been quite dull. But “A Picture of Autumn” is a heart-warming story of very real people faced with difficult choices, performed by a cast of seasoned actors. And it is wonderful.


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