Though the Mint Theater's revival of The Madras House is well played, beautifully costumed, often lively, occasionally provocative and, in rare spots, gripping, at the end of its three hours, really the only question that intrigued me was whether protagonist Philip Madras served as a prototype of sorts for Bobby in the musical Company. Although a constant presence in the four major scenes that constitute Harley Granville -Barker's comedy, Philip's a passive presence, serving as adjudicator and sounding board as he mulls life decisions that are crucial to him but not especially dramatic to us
In the first act, Philip (Thomas Hammond) interacts mainly with his wife, Jessica (Lisa Bostnar), and his inlaws as all await a meeting to sell the family fashion-design house to an American entrepreneur (Ross Bickell). The play's second and most involving segment shows Philip mediating between pregnant shopworker Freda (Angela Reed), her timid husband (Kraig Swartz) who fears for his job, and the priggish shop steward (Laurie Kennedy) who saw Freda being kissed - albeit chastely - by a male colleague. That's followed by a lively colloquy between Philip and a married friend (Mark L. Montgomery) who confesses that he's drifted into a casual flirtation with Jessica and becomes downright perplexed that Philip couldn't care less.
A fashion demonstration in act three heralds the arrival of Philip's long-estranged father (George Morfogen), who's visiting England one more time to conclude his business affairs before moving permanently to the Middle East. In the last act, dear old dad, now a devoted Moslem, visits the wife he abandoned, leading to a clash of cultures that leaves his son seeking a balance between Western and Eastern views of how women in society should be valued and treated. Whether he can bring that to his own deteriorating marriage is the question mark that hangs over the final moments.
Nearly every performance in the Mint's Madras is spot-on, with special kudos to Hammond, a sober yet sympathetic presence; to the always excellent, Mint mainstay Bostnar giving a light touch to Jessica's desperation, to Montgomery -- so convincing he might have stepped out of an Alan Ayckbourn play in the West End; to Reed, heartrending in her explosive rant; and to Mary Bacon, Allison McLemore and Pamela McVeagh, who not only play the Madras daughters but serve as "the mannequins" adorned by Clint Ramos' splendid costumes in the fashion-show scene.
Like a more populist Shaw, Granville-Barker fills his characters with worthy ideas and bon mots to match, but he also shares Shaw's assumption that intellectual arguments can be dramatic in themselves, which is assumedly why Gus Kaikkonen's direction, though vital, can't build the four extended acts into an emotional arc. Harley baby, Harley bubbie, you could drive a person crazy.