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Days to Come

. . . I've worked for a lot of men, some of them deacons of the church who were breaking strikes for the good of America, but I never worked for a man before who believed I could come in, run his factory, and break his strike without walking on anybody's toes. You actually believed that. I come in to break strikes.That's my business.It's not a tearoom business. You ought to have known that.
— Wilkie to Andrew Rodman, the third generation head of a factory that's been an integral part of his beloved home town's economy and social fabric
Days to Come
Larry Bull and Janie Brookshire
Lillian Hellman isn't an obscure playwright, ripe for one of the Mint Theater Company's producing artistic director Jonathan Bank's rescue missions. Her very first play, The Children's Hour, went right to Broadway, had a successful run and after life. Her most successful play, The Little Foxes, has been seen often and in many versions—including as an opera and in an intriguingly cast Broadway revival in 2017. Even non-theater goers knew Hellman, mostly because of her long affair with detective novelist Dashiell Hammett; also her best-selling memoirs which proved to be as much fiction as fact.

But hold on. At times, Mr. Bank's archaeological instincts can send him digging out potential lost treasures, even in less deeply buried archives. In Lillian Hellman's case that took him to her second play, Days to Come (1936). Though it also landed on Broadway, it lasted for just seven performances, never to be seen in New York again except for a brief run at the now defunct WPA Theater —and now in an, as usual, handsomely staged production at the Mint's home on Theatre Row.

Despite its limited production history, Days to Come is included in several collections of Hellman's plays (the Mint production is based on a slight revision she made for a 1971 edition). However, reviews and reader comments of any of these collections are mostly about the well-known plays and pretty much ignore or skip over this one.

And yet, if you get to see the Mint production, you'll see that Days to Come is very much part of the overall creative impulse for all of Hellman's work: to develop an attention holding story within the framework of social issues. It's also something of a forbear to her highly sophisticated, family melodrama and ever relevant The Little Foxes.

The Rodmans of Days to Come are hardly as memorably and fully developed as the Hubbards of The Little Foxes, and this is neither Hellman's or the Mint's best ever production. It's nevertheless intriguing to see some of her best future characters in embryo as the basic conflict between the Rodmans and their brush factory's striking workers develops into its melodramatic and somber denouement.

At a time when the economics of theater require even established playwrights to tell their stories for small casts, it's also gratifying to see eleven actors on stage. However, in this case, that also takes us to the heart of this play's major flaw: the use of all those actors complicates the plot with too many issues, and fails to have the characters connect believably and smoothly.

The basic scenario is simple enough. The time is 1936, the place a small Ohio town. The workers of the brush factory that's been the town's economic and social center are on strike for desperately needed higher wages. Andrew Rodman (Larry Bull), the factory's third generation owner loves the town and considers the workers his friends, especially Thomas Firth (Chris Henry Coffey). But his own misguided financial practices make him unable to meet their demands.

The strikers are advised by union organizer Leo Whalen (Roderick Hill) to stick to their resolve but avoid violence. And the ineffectual Rodman is persuaded by Henry Ellicott (Ted Deasy), his ruthless lawyer and friend, to bring in a group of strike breakers under the auspices of for-hire strikebreaker Sam Wilkie (Dan Daily) and two baffoonish goons (Geoffrey Allen Murphy and Evan Zes) who are installed in the Rodman home to protect the family in case violence breaks out. Given Hellman's penchant for melodrama, this is fairly inevitable.

All this, plus the personal subplots within the Rodman household and set designer Harry Feiner's clever fold-out office for the labor organizer Whalen, confirm the playwright's own opinion that the play failed because she tried to do too much. And that hasn't changed in this revival.

Director J. R. Sullivan works hard, but not often enough successfully so, to weave all these plot strands together and help the actors clarify what makes them tick. But a cast just one short of a full dozen and this wide ranging story make it hard for them to make strong impressions. Consequently, they shine more occasionally than constantly; for example, Larry Bull is something of a cipher until his final pained struggle to rationalize his decision to call in the strike breakers and deal with his unhappy wife Julie (Janie Brookshire). As for Julie's infidelities and restless wanderings, these come off as rather vaguely motivated, but do give us glimpses of Birdie in The Little Foxes. That link to a stronger, more memorable character in Hellman's super hit is even more evident for Mary Bacon's Cora. It's easy to see her nasty and neurotic spinster eventually morph into the monstrous Regina.

Dan Daily
The production is at its most entertaining during the scenes featuring the thuggish strikebreakers. Since Hellman is known to have often relied on advice from her lover, detective novelist Dashiell Hammett (he gave her the basic plot for The Children's Hour), and Hammett's job with the famous Pinkerton Agency included strikebreaking, I couldn't help seeing his hand here. At any rate Dan Daily's Wilkie and the actors playing his noirish underlings pretty much steal the show.

Hammett's influence also lurks around the character of the labor organizer Lee Whalen; but, if this were a Hammett instead of a Hellman play, Roderick Hill would have had to try for a little more Humphrey Bogart toughness.

Finally, class and economic differences are hardly dated in these days of rampant inequality, particularly in small working class Ohio towns like the play's fictional one. The days of gangster-ish strikebreaking are past history, but factory owners have found it easier to cut labor costs by simply having their products produced by cheap foreign labor. And so, clashes between haves and have-nots are very much with us and Ohio has one of our largest populations of disaffected workers. Too bad Lillian Hellman isn't still with us to explore what the days to come after that brush factory strike look like today.

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Days to Come< by Lillian Hellman
Directed by J.R. Sullivan. Cast (in orderof appearance): Kim Martin-Cotten (Hannah), Betsy Hogg (Lucy), Mary Bacon (Cora Rodman),Ted Deasy (Henry Ellicott), Larry Bull (Andrew Rodman), Janie Brookshire (Julie Rodman), Chris Henry Coffey (Thomas Firth), Roderick Hill (Leo Whalen) ,Dan Daily (Sam Wilkie), Geoffrey Allen Murphy (Mossie Dowel), Evan Zes (Joe Easter).
scenic design by Harry Feiner
Costume design by Andrea Varga
Lighting design by Christian DeAngelis
Sound design by Jane Shaw
Prop design by Joshua Yocom Stage Manager:
Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, includes intermission.
The Mint at the Becket Theater on Theatre Row
From 8/02/18; opening 8/26/18; closing 10/06/18.
Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30pm with matinees Saturday & Sunday at 2pm. No performance: Saturday September 8th at 2:00; Tuesday September 18th at 7:30. Special added Matinees at 2pm on Wednesday September 5th and Thursday September 20th. <

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