By William Wolf

THE ORIGINALIST  Send This Review to a Friend

Given my opposition to most of the votes by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, I came to “The Originalist” with a great deal of skepticism. Surprisingly, I find the play with Scalia at the center of it engaging and intellectually stimulating, even though nothing changes my opinions. Yes, a lot of the back and forth arguments in chambers between Scalia and his clerk as depicted seem unlikely, but they are nonetheless engrossing, thanks largely to the acting as well as the writing by playwright John Strand.

The drama, crisply directed by Molly Smith and presented by Middle Finger Productions, LLC in association with Arena Stage, stars the excellent Edward Gero as Scalia, and he quite resembles the justice. He is a larger than life presence on stage, with a booming voice, a confrontational manner and likable as a person whether or not one agrees with his decisions. He reminded me of seeing the film “RBG,” which shows the warm friendship between him and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg despite their polarized views.

Tracy Ifeachor is appealing and convincing as Cat, the black lesbian clerk Scalia hires, a feisty, especially bright and liberal young woman who provides the counterpoint to the judge’s views in impassioned arguments that open the way for clarifying legal positions.

Scalia is dogmatic and passionate about explaining his Originalist stance. He argues that the U.S. Constitution should be followed as it stands, with current issues of social change not explicitly covered in the Constitution formulated by Congress, not be decreed from the bench. This view, to cite examples, results in rulings against such issues as the right of women to have abortions and the rights of gays and lesbians. Scalia cloaks all of this as in line with democracy. Cat accuses him of hypocrisy. (The second amendment to the Constitution, if one adheres to the letter of it, speaks of the right to bear arms in relation to security of a free state, not to everyone being able to walK around with automatic rifles.)

Scalia, who becomes a mentor to Cat, is depicted as relishing intellectual combat while always sure of his positions, although there is a point in the play when he bends to include wordage that she wants him to insert to make his dissent, with which she disagrees, at least more human.

There is a side drama involving Cat and Brad, well-acted by Brett Mack, an obnoxious right-wing clerk with a lower status and jealous of her position. He threatens to smear her for being a lesbian in order to curry favor with Scalia. This goes on a bit too long as a distraction, although eventually being pulled together to enable a point to be made.

The playwright favors opposing sides finding a middle ground in order for our country to advance in contrast to present polarization. Good luck with that. I stand firm in my belief that the liberal four of the current court have the high ground in the face of the court being about to swing to the right. “The Originalist” will not change views of those who share that opinion, but despite some of the play’s hokum, it has the advantage of laying out issues sharply and a performance by Gero that makes Scalia come dramatically alive even if one opposes votes he cast in the Supreme Court. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Reviewed July 20, 2018.

TEVYE SERVED RAW--GARNISHED WITH JEWS  Send This Review to a Friend

Callling all Jews, and non-Jews too. Three talented people acting in Yiddish (and a “bisl” English) are providing an entertaining delve into stories by the celebrated Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, some of which inspired “Fiddler on the Roof.” Keeping faith with the master, there is a combination of the humorous and the serious in the chosen stories depicting life for Jews in Russian “shtetls.”

Non-Yiddish speaking folk need not worry. There are English titles projected, and some translations are verbal, often delivered hilariously. The trio consists of Shane Baler, Yelena Shmulenson and Allen Lewis Rickman. The writings by Sholem Aleichem were adapted and translated by Rickman and Baker, with Rickman directing. The intimate show is being presented by the Congress for Jewish Culture, i.a.w. Benjamin Feldman and Khobzey Inbud, L.L.C.

The cast is extremely versatile. Rickman is very poignant as Tevye facing the prospect of having to argue with a priest to gain access to his daughter, who is being confined while converting to marry her non-Jewish boyfriend. He also tugs at heartstrings when ordered to leave town.

But he can also be uproariously funny in an encounter on a train. Likewise, Yelena Shmulenson, who handles the various women’s roles in the stories, is a wonderful actress/comedienne. In the show‘s encore she has the task of heaping a rat-a-tat barrage of Yiddish insults while Baker keeps up a furious pace of translations in addition to those posted. It doesn’t seem possible that any insults are left out, and for those who understand and savor Yiddish the sketch has special appeal.

Baker is deft at playing a variety of parts requiring him to assume different garb and attitudes. He is kind of the show’s anchor, and can be pleasingly funny in the positions he assumes, as well as nasty when playing the Russian orthodox priest rebuffing Tevye.

The Playroom Theater in which the show is simply mounted is compact, and that makes for audiences feeling intimately connected with the very likable cast. The performances come across as a salute to the preservation of Yiddish, as well as further evidence of how creative Sholem Aleichem was in capturing a way of life with its pleasures and perils. The production is enhanced by Alex Ryaboy’s original music. At the Playroom Theater, 151 West 46th Street. Phone: 1-800-838-3006.

BROADWAY'S RISING STARS 2018  Send This Review to a Friend

Broadway musicals will never run short of talent, judging by the captivating array of 19 aspirants showcased in the 2018 edition of “Broadway’s Rising Stars,” presented Monday night (July 16) by The Town Hall. Scott Siegel, creator, writer, host and on this occasion co-director with Farah Alvin, introduced performers with fanfare and often with anecdotes about their development and personal lives. The audience, filled with family members and classmates from the schools from which the performers emerged, whooped it up with well-deserved enthusiasm. Talent agents were also in the audience.

We got an opening look at the aggregation singing as an ensemble “A Million Dreams”/”The Greatest Show” from “The Greatest Showman,” Not only was the lined-up group an impressive sight, but at one point the performers, still singing, descended from the stage to head up the aisles and make contact with audience members. It was a rousing first number. Then came the parade of individuals in two acts. Since each one was obviously intent on making a strong impression, most numbers tended to end in a crescendo of belting. But the individual strengths shone through, confirming the wisdom of the choices from audition standouts from a variety of schools.

Singing “Into the Fire” from “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” Joseph Valle-Hoag revealed a powerful voice to go with his good looks. Maddy Waters projected youthful enthusiasm as she expertly sang “A Way Back to Then” from “[title of show]. Emily Royer, in singing “Everybody Says Don’t” from “Anyone Can Whistle,” delivered her rendition with Merman-like power. Although petite, Brittneyann Accetta wowed the crowd with her larger-than-life presentation of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from “Funny Girl.”

Dongwoo Kang, a Korean, exhibited his strong voice with his impressively sung “I Have Dreamed” from “The King and I.” The number “I’m Here” from “The Color Purple” is very assertive, and Makrya Alexander dug into the lyrics with intensity and effectiveness. Stephanie Bacastow, elegant and blessed with a thrilling soprano voice, soared with “My White Knight” from “The Music Man.”

Emily James, striking with her long hair and stage presence, scored with “Woman” from “The Pirate Queen.” Melanie Gettler packed plenty of passion into singing “Be a Lion” from “The Wiz.” Kyra Pemberton, backed by the company, gave an especially rhythmic enhancement to “Waiting for Life” from “Once on This Island.” Appropriate in this assemblage of performers with dreams of success, Will Brockman captured that spirit fervently singing “This is the Moment” from “Jekyll and Hyde.”

And that was just the first act.

The company opened the second act singing “Heart and Music” from “A New Brain,” and then the talent parade continued. Nick Manna mixed tenderness with strength in “How It Ends” from “Big Fish.” Kelsey Lee Smith, dedicating the number to her mother, emotionally sang a song saluting motherhood, “The Story Goes On” from “Baby.”

Tall Emma Maxwell, in excellent voice, impressed with “But the World Goes ‘Round” from “And the World Goes ‘Round.” Hannah Mount exhibited boundless energy singing “The Writing on the Wall” from “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” Gigi Encarnacion stormed the stage with a vigorous rendition of “Colored Woman” from “Memphis.” Curley-haired Giancarlo Pinzon connected solidly with the audience with “Let It Sing” from “Violet.”

Ashley Ryan, who like Ms. Bacastow, has a glorious soprano voice. In singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone” from “Carousel” she showed extraordinary range. I also enjoyed Christopher J. Essex’s interpretation of “If I Sing” from “Closer Than Ever.” It takes special talent and a strong voice to sing without a mike, and William Taitel demonstrated how well he could do that with “The Impossible Dream” anthem from “Man of La Mancha.” The entire company capped the concert, again with a meaningful assertion of hope, singing “Once in a Lifetime” from “Stop the World—I Want to Get Off.” Once again the point was well established—an exciting range of talent awaits the opportunity for success.

The band for the evening consisted of music director John Fischer at the piano, Jerry DeVore on bass, Zak Eldridge on drums and Jonathan Russell on violin. Nili Bassman did the choreography, with Holly Cruz as associate choreographer. Carl Acampora was stage manager, Rick Hinkson assistant director and assistant stage manager and Joe Burke production assistant. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed July 18, 2018.

FIRE IN DREAMLAND  Send This Review to a Friend

Good luck in trying to decipher what playwright Rinne Groff is up to in “Fire in Dreamland,” a drawn-out, three-character tale directed by Marissa Wolf. With a young woman becoming involved with a young Dutch film student trying to make a breakthrough movie about the real-life 1911 Coney Island fire that victimized animals, it would seem that Groff is trying to draw a parallel between the historical event and the romantic fire that needs extinguishing more than a century later.

We first meet the excellent Rebecca Naomi Jones as Kate, who collapses into a mess of tears. She informs the audience of a movie that is about to be made, and the flashbacks begin in an incessant style that keeps snapping back and forth between real life and the moviemaking life. Into the scene comes the good-looking Enver Gjokaj as Jaap Hooft, the aspiring filmmaker. He is obsessed with the plight of animals in the fire, and he wants to make his mark as a new director with this project.

Of course, there is a need for money, and as Kate falls for him, she also falls into the trap of investing funds she can’t afford to lose. Present in the set-up is Jaap’s assistant Lance, played sullenly by Kyle Beltran, who eventually exhibits signs of jealousy.

That’s about it for the basic plot, and there is an awful lot of not very interesting dialogue in the not very convincing relationship and outcome. But mostly the problem seems to be the effort to link the fire and the romantic problems in some sort of equation.

Director Wolf struggles to keep up interest with swift scenic interplay (the story takes place mostly on Coney Island in 2013). The best elements that she and the playwright have going for them are the performances, mainly the dramatic effectiveness of Jones and the impassioned acting of Gjokaj.

The play runs an hour and 40 minutes without an intermission but seems longer. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Phone: 212-967-7555. Reviewed July 17, 2018.

THE SAINTLINESS OF MARGERY KEMPE  Send This Review to a Friend

Constructing a play about Margery Kempe, born in Norfolk, England in 1378 and died sometime after 1438, is a tall order. In the 15th century she wrote what some consider to be among the first autobiographies in the English language, “The Book of Margery Kempe,” detailing her life as a mystic and deeply religious woman who claimed to have directions from God, battled sexual temptations, operated a brewery, and dealt with many aspects of her turbulent existence. She is reputed to have had as many as 14 children.

Playwright John Wulp has distilled some of her life into this new production (there were previously mounted earlier versions), with Andrus Nichols in the title role and direction by Austin Pendleton. The production is a presentation by the Perry Street Theatre Company and Jonathan Demar in association with Frederick M. Zollo and Diane Procter.

The emphasis here appears to be an attempt to highlight Kempe’s break from the expected position of women in society in her time as a parallel to wider aspirations for women today. But what we see on stage doesn’t mesh with such a leap. Kempe is portrayed as a self-centered dame who doesn’t care about the lives of others and rides roughshod over anyone in the way of her desires or proclamations. She emerges as an unsympathetic if colorful character.

But what we see is of interest, especially given the flamboyant portrait of Kempe as vigorously enacted by Nichols, who dominates the stage throughout in an acting blast. Eight supporting cast members play a variety of roles, from adults to children, including Jason O’Connell, as John, Kempe’s frustrated husband, whose roles also include a friar and thief. Others in the cast are Michael Genet, Thomas Sommo, Pippa Pearthree, Ginger Grace, LaTonya Borsay, Timothy Doyle and Vance Quincy Barton.

The playwright is also responsible for the set design, aiming to sketch a Middle Ages ambience, with the costumes by Barbara A. Bell adding to the period imagery. Ryan Rumery, in addition to his sound design, has provided original music. Pendleton as director struggles to keep all of the broad components making sense and effectively integrated. But dominating everything is the force of Nichols’s performance.

It would take a much more comprehensive play than this conglomeration to do justice to the real Margery Kempe. (Look her up.) But what we do see can stir our interest and engender appreciation for the cast assigned to cover the amount of ground that the play does address. At the Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street. Phone: 646-223-3010. Reviewed July 13, 2018.

ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER (IRISH REPERTORY THEATRE)  Send This Review to a Friend

Nothing can change the cockamamie story that has bedeviled every production of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” but nothing can also change the appeal of the songs, with music by Burton Lane and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, with Lerner also responsible for the silly book. By cleverly paring down the original in her adaptation and direction of this revival by the Irish Repertory Theatre, adaptor and director Charlotte Moore has placed emphasis on the musical numbers, which is all to the good.

Also, in this minimalist version that fits the compact stage of the Irish Rep, there is not the embarrassment of huge production numbers that in larger mountings have made the cumbersome story all the more evident and painful.

Moore has also assembled an excellent cast, with Melissa Errico playing Daisy Gamble, who not only has ESP but has had a previous life in the 18th century as British Melinda Welles, a condition discovered by Stephen Bogardus as Dr. Mark Bruckner when he hypnotizes Daisy in 1960s New York to help her quit smoking. But Daisy’s problem is that she thinks he has fallen in love with her past persona instead of the gal she is in the 1960s.

The plot muddles along, but oh those songs—the title number foremost, and also ‘Hurry, It’s lovely Up Here,” “Ring Out the Bells,” “He Wasn’t You,” “She Wasn’t You,” “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?,” “Wait Till We’re Sixty-Five” and “Come Back to Me,” among others.

Errico, a fine actress, has a beautiful voice (she has starred on Broadway in “My Fair Lady” and other musicals), and Bogardus (he also has appeared in many Broadway shows) has a rich, impassioned voice. Another musical treat is provided by tenor John Cudia in the role of Edward Moncrief, a philandering artist betraying Melinda back in England.

There is a talented Ensemble, which Moore uses smartly at the outset singing “On a Clear Day” from a theater side elevation, and similarly at the close, with members also handling various supporting roles. The cast includes Florrie Bagel, William Bellamy, Rachel Coloff, Peyton Crim, Caitlin Gallogly, Matt Gibson, Daisy Hobbs and Craig Waletzko.

The talented musicians are scaled down to five instead of a huge orchestra, with musical direction by John Bell. The choreography is by Barry McNabb. James Morgan has creatively provided a mix of present and past set design largely relying on inventive use of projection.

The overall production gives audiences the opportunity to savor anew the music and lyric accomplishments while shrugging away the ridiculous plot premise that makes me recall an especially funny comment made by Johnny Carson concerning Shirley MacLaine’s belief that she has been reincarnated. Carson said that it was a good thing he was never married to her or he would be paying alimony all the way back to ancient Egypt.

At the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. Phone: 866-811-4111. Reviewed July 3, 2018.

SKINTIGHT  Send This Review to a Friend

Joshua Harmon’s play “Skintight,” presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company, can keep you laughing but also manages to be ultimately serious in exploring the meaning of love. What makes it work is the creation of characters whose quirks are meat for the excellent cast, and also for the direction by Daniel Aukin, who milks steady, abundant humor out of the situations the playwright has concocted.

Take the character of Jodi Isaac, played by the comedy’s principal attraction, Idina Menzel. A lawyer in California, Jodi has come to New York to celebrate the 70th birthday of her father, the wealthy and famous clothing designer Elliot Isaac, and also in hope of getting some fatherly sympathy. Jodi enters in a state of non-stop rage over her husband’s dumping her for a 24-year-old. She is fuming over the situation and the author and Menzel have made the anger hilarious with the ourageous lines she delivers. Jodi is clearly an emotional wreck with a totally shattered life and a grating personality that would make her impossible to live with.

That’s only the beginning. Her father, played by Jack Wetherall with the calmness of someone who knows what he wants, is living with a young hunk, Trey (Will Brittain). It is a serious relationship that galls Jodi, partly because of homophobia, but also because she sees Trey as an interloper competing for her father’s affection, which she desperately wants to help get her through the rough patch in her life, affection that she feels she has never properly had. She refuses to regard Trey as becoming part of the family.

Trey, strutting about amusingly in an excellent performance by Brittain, flaunts his body, as when he turns up wearing nothing but a jockstrap, much to Jodi’s disdain. She is sure he is after her father’s money, but Trey, while on the one hand giving an impression that this could be true, counters that with expression of loving feelings toward Elliot, who responds in kind and in an ultimate scene lectures Jodi on the meaning of love and sex and asserts how happy he is in his homosexual relationship with Trey, who, Elliot, says has brought new meaning to his life at the age of 70.

Add to the mix the arrival of Jodi’s blatantly and disconnected gay son, Benjamin (a very funny Eli Gelb), who has been studying abroad in Hungary, a country important in the history of the Isaac family, which had roots there. Much humor emerges over whether Benjamin knows any Hungarian, or Yiddish, and Elliot’s home includes the services of a kind Hungarian housekeeper Orsolya (Cynthia Mace).

Given Benjamin’s sexual orientation there are sparks between him and Trey, which of course, makes Elliot wary. As usual in the play, every situation is laced with comedy. When an impending marriage between the young stud Trey and Elliot looms, Trey delivers one of the play’s funniest lines when he reminds the cringing Jodi that she soon will become his stepdaughter.

The set-up also includes Stephen Carrasco as Jeff, the super-cool butler, who serves drinks and food with self-assured aplomb as he is ordered about, but always gives the impression that he is astutely observing the intense goings-on.

Aukin’s direction is admirable. He knows when to accent pauses to provide maximum comic effect, and excels by making the most out of bits of acting business. Mace is utterly hilarious when she drags Benjamin’s luggage up the stairs, each step milked for a laugh as a sight to behold. Likewise, Trey’s movements are often funny, especially when they can annoy Jodi.

The set, designed by Lauren Helpern, is minimalist modern, the perfect environment for the West Village home of Elliot. The staircase leading up to the one floor that we see out of others above, is important to the various staging gambits.

By the end, the playwright succeeds in introducing serious discussion via Elliot’s expression of his deep feelings toward exploring the idea of love and what it means, and the importance of erotic feelings to life itself. “Skintight” is more successful than Harmon's earlier and less tightly constructed “Bad Jews.”

This is not a play in which everything works out for everyone. Jodi is still left sitting coldly without resolution for her state of anxiety and disapproval. At the Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th Street. Phone: 212-719-1300. Reviewed June 28, 2018.

CARMEN JONES  Send This Review to a Friend

It is the singing that defines and triumphs in the neatly scaled down production of “Carmen Jones, based on Georges Bizet’s opera, and being presented by the Classic Stage Company under the direction of John Doyle. With the audience on four sides of the compact stage, a superb group of performers make the songs potent and moving in the drama transposed to an American parachute factory in the South during World War II.

“Carmen Jones,” with book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, was produced on Broadway in 1943 and made a sensational impact, then became a film in 1954 directed by Otto Preminger with a prominent African-American cast headed by Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte. It is a wise move for the CSC to revive the stage version, and Doyle, known for his tightening of major theater pieces, is the right one to present it in a 95-minute version with choreography by Bill T. Jones.

Anika Noni Rose as Carmen, a new arrival in the factory with military personnel on hand, is a sexy teaser oozing the kind of eroticism that can drive men wild. She looks great in her figure-clinging dresses and her singing is terrific throughout. She immediately captivates Joe, a soldier played by Clifton Duncan, and what a majestic voice he has!

Joe’s back-home girl friend, Cindy Lou, shows up to pursue him, but by then he is hooked on Carmen. Lindsay Roberts as Cindy Lou is another with a marvelous voice, as she sings her frustrated feelings of love for Joe.

Carmen soon casts her eyes on Husky Miller, played by impressively tall and muscular David Aron Damane, who has a powerful voice to match his build. A rivalry is thus set-up between Joe and Miller, to be played out after travel to Chicago, where the action switches from the factory.

All of the supporting cast members are vocally excellent as well, including Erica Dorfler, Soara-Joye Ross, Tramell Tillman, Andrea Jones-Sojola, Lawrence E. Street and Justin Keyes. The staging is excellent and mobile, as cast members wander to various fringes of the playing area and sometimes interact with audience members. There is little in the way of a set. Some performers carry around storage boxes on which they perch, a few lights descend from the ceiling, and the biggest set manifestation is white cloth taken from a trunk and cleverly expanded into a huge tent-like covering.

By shortening the work and condensing the plot details, the dramatics get somewhat shortchanged and all the explosive relationships seem rushed without enough real time to develop. But the gambit results in primary focus on expression via the singing, and listening to one dynamic number after another brilliantly sung becomes a thrilling experience. One can come away amazed at all the talent that exists these days, and bringing back “Carmen Jones” is a major service to the theater. At the Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street. Phone: 866-811-4111. Reviewed June 28th, 2018.

CYPRUS AVENUE  Send This Review to a Friend

There must be a way to deal with the symbolic issues presented in David Ireland’s challenging play “Cyprus Avenue” without subjecting the audience to the horrific doings at the climax. The work, a mix of dark comedy and tragedy, is forcefully staged by Vicky Featherstone and sparkles with a superb performance by Stephen Rea. Some telling points are made, but audience members are likely to cringe at what is ultimately put before them, making the play, strong and creative as it is, at that point very tough to watch. The presentation by the Public Theater is an Abbey Theatre and Royal Court Theatre co-production.

We first encounter the remarkable Rea as Eric, who is meeting with therapist, Bridget, played calmly by Ronke Adékoluejo, who doesn’t even blow her cool when he uses the N word to ask why she is the one who is questioning him. We do not know at the point what Eric has done, but we do see evidence of how deeply conflicted he is.

Eric, you see, is from Belfast and considers himself British, not Irish, and he has it in for the Irish resisters like Gerry Adams and those Eric denounces as Fenians. As the play proceeds we see how bonkers he has become as a result of his intense screwed up feelings. The play’s method is to use what he tells Bridget as a jumping off point for flashbacks into his life and what he has done to get him locked up, with Bridget probing to find explanations for what has motivated his acts.

We see how crazy and delusional Eric has become when he is convinced that his recently-born granddaughter is Gerry Adams. Eric becomes abusive toward his increasingly bewildered wife (Andrea Irvine) and daughter (Amy Molloy), and we sense the growing menace of his insanity.

One day, sitting on a park bench, he meets Slim (Chris Corrigan), a blowhard who is a terrorist but isn’t very competent, even though he has a gun with which to threaten Eric. The scene between them is quite funny, given Slim’s over-the-top comments and demeanor. Matters grow more serious when Eric wants him to kill his grandchild because he thinks she is Gerry Adams.

The play appears attempting to pinpoint the differences between those who favor an independent Ireland and those bound to British control and how conflicted feelings in individuals about where they belong can lead to to personal turmoil, of which Eric is a prime, tragic example.

The author is unflinching in the writing, and the director keeps faith with the outlook and presents the tale to the hilt. The dark drama—one might also label it a black comedy-- has a major reward with the gripping, complex performance by Rea and with the no-holds-barred staging. But be prepared. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Phone: 212-967-7555. Reviewed June 26, 2018.

CONFLICT  Send This Review to a Friend

The Mint Theater Company has reached back in time to present another work by British writer Miles Malleson, whose previous work, the 1933 play “Yours Unfaithfully,” was given an excellent production by the Mint last year. This time the rediscovered work is “Conflict,” set in London in the early 1920s. It is an entertaining and thoughtful drama zeroing in on class differences, politics and relationships entwined in the issues.

Malleson (1888-1969), also known for his screenplays and career as an actor, was ahead of his time in his approach to social issues. His “Yours Unfaithfully” delved into an open marriage arrangement. At the start of “Conflict” we learn that Major Sir Ronald Clive, D.S.O. (Henry Clarke) has been having a lengthy secret affair with Lady Dare Bellingdon (Jessie Shelton), the daughter of the wealthy Lord Bellingdon (Graeme Malcolm).

Being close to Lord Bellingdon, Sir Ronald feels he has been betraying his friend. He would like to marry Lady Dare, who has been leading a luxurious life. However, as Shelton depicts so effectively, there are stirrings of independence in Lady Dare that makes her not want to settle into a married life.

The drama is set up early when in a scary scene a stranger who has been lurking outside the Bellingdon home late one night sneaks in as startled Sir Ronald, Lady Dare and Lord Bellingdon confront him. The fellow turns out to be down-and-out Tom Smith (Jeremy Beck), who was a classmate of Sir Ronald’s back in Cambridge days, but whose life fell apart. He since descended into poverty and increasing desperation. After Smith movingly tells his story, Lord Bellingdon begrudgingly offers a small contribution, less charitably than Sir Ronald, who takes pity on Smith and gives him a generous sum of money, as does Lady Dare.

That helps turn Smith’s life around, and when the play jumps forward, he arrives to inform his former benefactors that he is now standing for Parliament against Sir Ronald of the Conservative party. Propelled by a social conscience, Smith is a member of the Labour Party, anathema to the upper class Lord Bellingdon and Sir Ronald.

In an intriguing twist, the intellectually restless Lady Dare becomes curious about the socialist rhetoric of Smith, and his passionate concern for what the lower classes must endure in contrast to the lives of the rich. It is a wake-up call for her. How the relationship between Lady Dare and Smith develops and the resulting upheaval this causes is developed with Malleson’s expertise and the superb performances all around.

Others in the cast included Jasmin Walker as Mrs. Tremayne, Lady Dare’s friend, James Prendergast as Daniels, the Bellingdon butler and Amelia White as Mrs. Robinson, the housekeeper. John McDermott has designed an impressive, wealthy-looking home, and director Jenn Thompson imbues the play with realism, stature and insight, and sometimes humor, in the staging of revealing scenes. “Conflict,” although written nearly a century ago, has much to say that seems currently relevant. At Theater Row, 410 West 42nd Street. Reviewed June 22, 2018.

  

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