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Paulanne Simmons

"John Ferguson" Is Not Worth the Mint

Marion Wood, Robertson Carricart, and Joyce Cohen. Photo by Richard Termine

"John Ferguson"
Directed by Martin Platt
311 West 43rd St. 3rd Floor
Opened Sept. 8, 2006
Tues. thru Thurs. 7 p.m., Sat. 8 p.m., matinees Sat. & Sun. 2 p.m.
$45 (212) 315-0231 or www.minttheater.org
Closes Oct. 15, 2006
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Sept. 21, 2006

According to the promotional material released by Mint Theater Company, when "John Ferguson" was first produced at the fledgling Theatre Guild in 1919, it was only scheduled for five performances but ran for 150, thanks to excellent reviews and enthusiastic audiences. Watching the company's revival over 85 years later, it's hard to understand what anyone saw in the play.

It's not that director Martin Platt and the capable cast don't do St. John Ervine's work justice. They do their best. But nothing can change Ervine's characterizations, which are confused at best, and his plot, which is hackneyed and impossible, even granted that "John Ferguson" takes place in Ireland during the 1880s, when presumably people thought and acted differently than they do today.

John Ferguson (Robertson Carricart) is a poor farmer whose ill health has forced him to entrust the running of the farm to his young son, Andrew (Justin Schultz). Despite his bad luck, however, his faith in God remains unshaken. He is convinced "Joy cometh in the morning."

Even when Ferguson's daughter, Hannah (Marion Woods) rejects James Caesar (Mark Saturno), a ridiculous, sniveling suitor, but the only one who can save the farm, and is later raped by the evil Henry Witherow (Greg Thornton), Ferguson remains firm in his belief. In fact, he is more worried that the cowardly Caesar may somehow screw up enough courage to kill Witherow than he is concerned about the welfare of his daughter.

Really! Does anyone believe that even the most devout father would not want to see the man who violated his daughter drawn and quartered? And this is to say nothing of Ervine's bungled plotting, which has Ferguson and his wife, Sarah (Joynce Cohen) blithely sending their daughter off as a messenger to Witherow's house, despite the fact that only a few minutes before he was drooling over the innocent lass and practically twirling an imaginary mustache.

John Keating (top) and Justin Schultz. Photo by Richard Termine

There are many funny and ironic moments in "John Ferguson," often involving the foolish and repugnant Caesar, but it's not always easy to tell whether the humor is intentional. Another mystery is the function of the imbecilic "Clutie" John McGrath (John Keating), a kind of poet/seer who blows on a whistle but has nothing to say.

Carricart is a gifted actor. But he can not make Ferguson into a character one wants to take seriously. Woods and Schultz have more to work with, but their characters seem to exist in a parallel universe where people behave in ways totally unconnected with common sense and natural emotions.

"John Ferguson" might make a great black comedy or a piece for theatre of the absurd. As naturalist drama it just doesn't work.

Perhaps in its next production, Mint Theatre will choose a play more worthy of its prodigious talents.

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