The issue of acting according to one’s principles never goes out of date, and that means doing what one believes is right, even if the act is one of stubborn narrow-mindedness. Thus the Mint Theater’s digging into the past and staging Elizabeth Baker’s play “The Price of Thomas Scott” speaks to today even though it was first presented in Manchester, England in 1913.
Baker (1876-1962) grew up in a family geared to the Noncomformist Congregational church, and theater was considered out of bounds. That sort of attitude toward entertainment is reflected in “The Price of Thomas Scott.” Annie, Scott’s daughter, is played with appeal by Emma Gear as a forward looking woman who seeks a future outside the era’s limitations for women. (In the 1913 production Annie was played by Sybil Thorndike.)
Annie’s father, Thomas Scott, played to perfection by Donald Corren, has a drapery business that is doing poorly, and a would-be buyer offers a good price for his property. The money would be important to Annie, who is skilled at creatively finishing hats and longs to go to Paris to become a designer, and also for her teenage brother, Leonard (Nick LaMedica), who would be able to advance his education at a good school. For the father, the sale would enable him to retire comfortably. But there’s a hitch.
The buyer wants to turn the property into a dance hall that would attract the set taking to the latest dance crazes of the period, an idea that Scott cannot abide. The idea of such dancing is anathema to him, and it is as if the devil has come to tempt him into sin. The money involved is indeed a temptation, but Scott does some deep soul-searching before he needs to come to his decision as to whether to sell or forgo the opportunity.
As usual, The Mint has assembled an excellent company to play the various roles, including Tracy Sallows as Thomas’ wife, Ellen, and Andrew Fallaize as Johnny Tite, the boarder who falls for Annie. Vicki R. Davis has designed just the right period setting for the shop’s back parlor. What’s especially interesting is the play’s understated tone, set both by the writing and the respectful direction by Jonathan Bank.
Despite Annie’s dreams of finding a new life and profession in Paris, she has respect for her father and his opinions. She is not the angry young woman, as might be the case in a work written today. And yet we are made to feel deeply for her and also for her brother. Scott commands respect despite his outrageous, biased attitude that looks thoroughly ridiculous as he equates dancing with sin.
What Baker, yet another author rediscovered by the Mint, achieves is a candid portrait of a family with strong ties but in crisis as a result of the need of the father to adhere to his principles. You may think those principles idiotic but the family depicted is prepared to honor them even though they conflict with personal needs and goals. There is an unusual, amusing curtain call in which the cast defiantly breaks into dancing the Charleston. At the Beckett Theater, Theater Row, 410 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed February 23, 2019.