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.