July 18, 2018
Among other things, the Mint Theater Company's wonderful production of Miles Malleson’s 1925 drama Conflict peers at women's roles in Britain after World War I, during the roaring 20’s and an economically divided country.
When “Conflict” opens, the youthful Major Sir Ronald Clive (Henry Clarke) and delightful Lady Dare Bellington (Jessie Shelton) are exchanging off-handed banter about their breezy nights swilling champagne at posh dinners and night clubs. They are sliding through life on a gilded sleigh of privilege but despite their long-term intimacy and perfect suitability, Lady Bellington still can’t commit to marriage. She’s bored -- she’s unsettled -- she wonders if she might not find something more.
After Lady Bellington retires to the bedroom, Clive and Lord Bellington (the perfectly cast Graeme Malcolm) discuss Clive’s campaign strategy for the Tory post in the upcoming elections only to be interrupted by a vagabond. Dirty and disheveled, the homeless man Tom Smith (Jeremy Beck) begs for money. Ready to call the police, Smith tells Clive they were fellow classmates at Cambridge. Smith’s family lost all their money and his musical background failed to leverage him a job. (Is this a slap at Music Majors?) Eager to be rid of this distasteful contact with reality, Lord Bellington gives Smith money and sends him away—that act throws the play into the “agitation cycle.”
Smith puts his rescue funds to good use and runs against Clive as the Labor candidate, which brings him in contact with Lady Bellington. She engages him in a conversation only to be forcefully told that she’s part of the 1% economically elite and egregiously out of touch with the rest of the struggling and starving British population.
This prompts Lady Bellington to attend his fiery rally and subsequently, visit his one room apartment. Suddenly, her mind is stimulated, and that in turn snaps her heart into a new arena of passion. Happily, Lady Bellington and Smith spark, making their attraction ring true despite their unequal social status.
Excellently cast and smoothly directed by Jenn Thompson, all the actors assume their characters with verbal and physical ease. In particular, Ms. Shelton transitions from the upbeat, glib, society girl to a woman of conscience without dropping any of her privileged demeanor. It’s an awakening to a new age—one that will demand more of women and fracture with the sound of more voices.
Regal in his bearing, Lord Bellington booms privilege and the young Major exudes the conflicted desire to be a fair and a good member of society while simultaneously preserving the status quo. On the other-hand, Lady Bellington's friend, the reconstructed Honorable Mrs. Tremayne (a wittily wise Jasmin Walker) represents the more independent woman. A widow of means, Mrs. Tremayne takes advantage of her freedom and pooh-poohs male validation.
Set designer John McDermott’s baronial front doors and plentiful wood paneling as well as Chris Field’s posh furniture and dishware add considerably to the colorful picture of society at the turn of a new world order. Despite the predictability of many scenes, Conflict packages its lessons in a glittering box of eloquent dialogue and candid insights.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis