Review by Tommy O’Malley
Allan Monkhouse’s 1911 comedy “Mary Broome” is receiving a rare and very fine revival at The Mint Theater. And if you are suffering from “Downton Abbey” withdrawals, as I am, this slight but charming truffle should satisfy your craving for upstairs/downstairs drama.
“Mary Broome” starts and ends in the middle of things, solving little over four soap operatic acts but offering plenty to think about. The title character, played with curious detachment by Janie Brookshire, is a housemaid to the wealthy Timbrell family. The Timbrell’s have two sons and a daughter. One of the sons, Edgar (Rod Brogan), plays by the rules, marrying an appropriate woman and honoring his parents. The other son, Leonard (a marvelous Roderick Hill), is an intellectual rogue, a self-possessed artist type whose attentions flutter about with the whimsy of a butterfly in a garden. True to form, Leonard has a tryst with Mary, she gets pregnant, and a sudsy assessment of the class system unfolds.
Although the title would suggest otherwise, Monkhouse’s play is less about Mary than it is about Leonard. At its core, “Mary Broome” is a portrait of a narcissist as a young man. Leonard’s actions could be assigned any number of diagnoses in the DSM, and quickly scanning my copy, I’d say that he’s at best borderline and at worst a sociopath. He acts consistently without regard for the feelings of others, most despicably in the tragic fourth act, and his every movement intends to manipulate some response from the people around him. That said, it is a testament to Hill’s performance that Leonard is, in spite of everything, a likable guy.
Director Jonathan Bank keeps things moving at a brisk pace, which compensates for logical gaps in Monkhouse’s script. Why, for example, are Mr. And Mrs. Timbrell so quick to accept Mary into their ranks? Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess on “Downton” would never consent to such usurpation of the aristocracy. Nevertheless, Bank and his estimable cast emanate frothy buoyancy from the stage, carrying the audience over any inconsistencies inherent in the play.
“Mary Broome” continues through October 14 at The Mint Theater, 311 West 43rd Street, Manhattan, 866-811-4111, www.ovationtix.com.