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Eric Uhlfelder

"The Price of Thomas Scott”

Tracy Sallows (Thomas’ wife), Donald Corren (Thomas) and Emma Geer (Annie, Thomas’ daughter) Photo by Todd Cerveris.

From January 24 to March 23.
Theater Row, 410 West 42nd Street
Presented by The Mint Theater
Tuesdays through Sundays, 7.30pm and Matinees on Saturday and Sundays at 2pm.
Tickets: $32-$65
212-239-6200, www.mintthertre.org
Running time: 90 minutes
Website: minttheater.org
Reviewed by Eric Uhlfelder

Perhaps no other time in recent memory begs for a morality tale. This play, which contrasts earthly needs versus personal principle, may not raise the stakes to a Faustian level. But in exploring the conflict of when one’s closely held beliefs are challenged is certainly a welcomed diversion.

Equally attractive is the notion of seeing the vision of a young working-class woman (this evening’s playwright), who had never even been to the theater before she was 30, attempt to break into one of the most challenging theatrical professions.

When Elizabeth Baker submitted her first work, "Chains,” to the Duke of York Theater in London’s West End, she soon found herself in 1910 unexpectedly sharing stage billing along with the likes of Granville Barker, J.M. Barrie, and Bernard Shaw. The London literary publication, "New Age”, described Baker as "a new playwright of unmistakable dramatic genius.”

So one can only imagine the anticipation that must have greeted "The Price of Thomas Scott” just three years later when it came to Manchester’s Gaiety Theatre in 1913. Whether out of design or the lack of interest, and in spite of favorable reviews, the play enjoyed only a single showing.

That didn’t stifle Jonathan Bank, the Mint Theater’s artistic director, from bringing Baker across the pond, targeting production of no less than three of Baker’s plays. Bank has made it his professional's life work to scourer the US and Europe for lost plays he deems deserving of resurrection.  He has done this to remarkable effect with productions that reverberate with his audiences long after they leave the Mint's home on West 42nd Street.

Unfortunately, this is not the case with The Price of Thomas Scott. This is a perfectly enjoyable production, with a solid cast, attractive staging, and choreography that makes the most of this one set, single-act show. But compared with the Mint’s previous productions that rely on simple ideas that are spun out in various directions, The Price of Thomas Scott lacks depth and nuisance.

The premise of the play is compelling: exploration of the distinction between prejudice and conviction, specifically the cost one pays (along with his family) for living by one's belief. While the matter at hand would make most members of the audience wonder why this is even an issue, the reaction of Thomas' family to his decision does resolve the play with surprising compassion, if not emotion.

But that’s the most unexpected takeaway from the show. The fanaticism that one might associate with Scott’s convictions may conflate it with today’s versions we see all around us that appear so caustic and myopic.

The play is actually reminiscent of the Mint's evening of 4 one-act plays all written by the equally forgotten Irish playwright, Teresa Deevy.

This 90-minute production, without intermission, feels more like a novella of sorts that mixes up a variety of familial subplots that suddenly comes to an abrupt end. If the production had been part of an evening of one-act plays, it’s simple tale might’ve felt more appropriate. But occupying the footlight by itself exaggerates the story’s lack of weight.

The risk Bank always takes in searching back decades for material is that cultural shifts over time can render themes lost in translation. While the timelessness of most his tales make them feel contemporary, this is not the case with Thomas Scott. The moral dilemma here was conjured by the playwright's imagination, rather than a matter of irreconcilable differences that could rip a family apart.

By avoiding such conflict, Baker is likely spoofing the morals of her day.  In her adherence to the way most bread earners ran their households in 1909, she reduces the potential for tension and drama by leaving Thomas to consider his choice by himself.  

Had Thomas discussed his conflict with his wife, who longs for a life away from the drudgery of a milliner's store (as does Thomas by the way); or with his son, who's just been admitted to a prestigious school he can ill afford to attend; or with his daughter, who dreams of taking her design skills to Paris, the play would've risen to a whole another level with dialogue that would have more effectively driven conflict and drama, while more clearly showing the price that Thomas Scott did indeed pay for living by his creeds.

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