| go to index of reviews | go to entry page | | go to other departments |


Glenda Frank




Jessie Shelton and Jeremy Beck. Photo by Todd Cerveris

“Conflict” by Miles Malleson, directed by Jenn Thompson. Produced by the Mint Theater Company at the Beckett Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC. Tues. – Sat. 7:30; Wed, Sat, Sun. 2 PM. $65.00. For tickets and information 212-239-6200, www.telecharge.com, and www.minttheater.org.

Bored, bright, aristocratic British women, especially around the turn of the last century, were a breed of their own, restless in their velvet cages. The Pankhursts have become legend, but there were others who left posh digs to establish clinics for the poor, explore the world, found schools, and lead the fight for labor reform. British playwright Miles Malleson (1888-1969) admired their pluck – and their confidence. In “Unfaithfully Yours,” produced by the Mint in 2016, the husband suggests an open marriage -- to his regret. In “Conflict” (1925), we meet Lady Dare Bellingdon (Jessie Shelton), the spoiled daughter of a powerful, conservative father (a patrician Graeme Malcolm). She lunches, she shops, she gossips, she clubs past 3 AM, and Major Sir Ronald Clive (Henry Clarke), who plans to run for Parliament, her beau, adores her. A homeless man, Tom Smith, (Jeremy Beck), who breaks into her father’s London residence, will change her life. In rags, he has come for a handout although he and Clive were once schoolmates at Cambridge. Bellingdon and Clive condemn him roundly but offer generous alms. Tom Smith’s next visit is even more surprising.

Jessie Shelton and Jeremy Beck. Photo by Todd Cerveris

Malleson, described by a contemporary newspaper as “no respecter of authority,” has a knack for twists and shifting perspectives. “Conflict” gets off to a slow start but once Smith returns, tensions escalate. The old order is toppling. Smith and Clive are running for the same office, but the prize is more than political. Tom, confrontational and dedicated to his Labour Party platform, awakens Dare. She lives up to her name, violating first her father’s then social restrictions – in order to discover the world outside. A Shavian-like heroine, she recognizes the price of privilege. Entitlement, though, has allowed her agency, and in the final confrontation with her father and Clive, she threatens to uphold the family honor by ruining her public reputation. “Conflict” is not quite believable, but like “Misalliance”, it is exciting. When the play was made into a movie in 1931, it was titled “The Woman Decides.”

The production can boast an adept cast, especially Jessie Shelton who creates a living portrait. Director Jenn Thompson (“Lost in Yonkers,” Drama Desk nomination) understands dramatic intersections and allows the actors to play out subtext and nuance. There is a freshness to the choices and reactions of the characters. Mint Theatre is famous for its costuming, with a sharp eye to detail, and designer Martha Hally (“Women without Men,” Drama Desk nomination) upholds the tradition. Dare’s gorgeous white coat and hat in Smith’s shabby bedsitter shout “money” and “taste.” Her stockings have seams. Good sets by John McDermott. Lights by Mary Louise Geiger.

A special thanks to Jonathan Bank and the Mint for reviving works by this intriguing artist (a Cambridge University alumnus who also fell upon hard times). To film buffs Malleson is best known as a character actor (“The 39 Steps”) and screen writer (“Lorna Doone,” “The Thief of Bagdad”). The stage plays were popular, but during his lifetime the loudest applause was for his rendition of classical comic characters. “His nit-wits,” one critic wrote, “had souls as well as stupidities.” An interesting trivia bit is that his first marriage, an open marriage, was to Lady Constance Annesley, daughter of an earl, who performed under the stage name of Colette O’Niel. A few of his adaptation of Moliere’s comedies for working class audiences are still available at Samuel French.

| home | reviews | cue-to-cue | discounts | welcome |
| museums | NYTW mail | recordings | coupons | publications | classified |