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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE PRICE OF THOMAS SCOTT
at Theatre Row

THE NOT-SO-LIGHT FANTASTIC
By JESSICA BRANCH

  Emma Geer and Nick LaMedica/ Ph: Todd Cerveris

What would make you abandon your deepest-held convictions? Perhaps you’d turn down a million dollars – but what about the future of your family? The Mint Theater Company specializes in bringing worthwhile plays back to the stage, and in the three American premieres in its “Meet Miss Baker” series, its lucky playwright is Elizabeth Baker, whose early 20th-century dramas it seeks to revive much as it recently did the work of Teresa Deevy. And while the specific conflicts of The Price of Thomas Scott may at first seem quaintly remote, the underlying issues they deal with are all too relevant. The result? A drama that’s unsatisfying because it doesn’t settle.

First performed in 1913, The Price of Thomas Scott centers on a conflict that’s on the surface irresistibly similar to that of Footloose. Dry goods shop owner Thomas Scott (Donald Corren) would like nothing better than to unload his failing business, get his teenage son Leonard (Nick LaMedica) into a good school so he can become a civil servant, set up his spirited daughter Annie (Emma Geer) as a milliner, and retire with his wife Ellen (Tracy Sallows) to Tunbridge Wells, where the two first met. When an offer finally comes from an old friend, Wicksteed (a striking Mitch Greenberg), it’s for a whopping 500 pounds, which will allow him to do all that and then some. The problem is that his corner property would end up in the hands of the Courtney Company, a business that runs dancehalls, which Scott slowly comes to realize. And Scott, a man of strong religious principles, believes that dancing is morally wrong.

In this generational conflict, Geer’s lively Annie easily commands center stage, whether she’s shooting down a marriage proposal or defending the father she disagrees with. But though she seems like the logical stand-in for Baker’s own point of view, her dad’s the real star. As Corren skillfully plays him, Scott, who enters singing a Christmas carol, is no tightlipped Puritan, but a genial, likable man who genuinely cares not just about his children’s well-being but about their wishes too. And while they regard his opinion on dancing as an eccentricity they can more or less ignore (they push back the furniture to have an impromptu waltz when he’s out of the house), once 500 pounds is at stake, it gradually becomes clear that his feelings, like his faith, run deep. And while he does seem to feel he should examine it, ultimately he can’t. Even while the family’s fate hangs in the balance, he comes to realize that the real cost of selling the shop is that he will have given in to hypocrisy – and that he will have lost his moral authority in everything. And in time, his children realize it too.

Mint artistic director Jonathan Banks directs, allowing the drama to unfold at its own pace, slowly drawing us into its ultimately engaging world. While Scott’s conundrum may sound a little high-falutin, and while Baker’s language can hammer in the points too heavily, Corren’s portrayal of an honest, caring man working through this painstaking process is compelling. The play is less concerned with the merits of dancehalls (though imagine if it were a prison that were the source of debate) than about conviction – but with an understanding that the faith in question may not always be warranted. What makes this play even more probing, even as it’s more problematic, is the contrast we get from seeing Scott’s struggle simultaneously through the eyes of his children. They don’t share his convictions, and they also stand to suffer for them (and they haven’t failed to notice that their father doesn’t know anything firsthand about dancing). But Baker’s depiction of their gradual understanding of the complexity of his choice is surprisingly skillful, and more moving than any sudden, simplistic solution – Scott embracing the waltz, say – could possibly be.

 


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