‘Mother-in-law’ Review: Sons and Wives

In the dark before dawn, a sleepless woman and her bride become friends with each other.

No love is lost between these two – Mrs Gascoyne, the widow of a miner who keeps his miner’s sons close in his small English town; and Minnie, a former governess who a few weeks ago dared to marry one of them. But late in DH Lawrence’s play “bride“Women are so kind to each other that they have heart to heart.

“A child is a troublesome pleasure to a woman,” Ms. Gascoyne tells Minnie, “but a man is trouble, pure and simple.”

If that’s not fair as a generalization, it certainly applies to Miss Gascoyne’s Luther, who has lived through the age of 30 without the slightest sign of ambition.

An enduring mystery of the game is that Minnie, an entrepreneur with some money of her own, chooses to marry him. As a mate choice, it even seems like a distant second to his aimless brother Joe, who still lives with their mother and sits down to a dinner his mother prepared for him in the opening minutes of the play.

New York City Center II for Martin Platt’s Mint Theater Company. In the distracting revival game in Phase 1, it’s not the boys that’s alluring about this game. Rather, Lawrence’s women are women drawn with broad, contradictory sympathy, realizing how frustrating it is for a sharp-minded person to seek satisfaction from a stifling home world.

Beautifully portrayed by Sandra Shipley, Mrs Gascoyne harbors resentment about Luther’s “hoity-toity” new wife – a resentment about class and clan, but also about losing control, because what if your son doesn’t need her anymore? When an acquaintance, Miss Purdy (Polly McKie), announces that her daughter is four months pregnant with Luther’s child, Miss Gascoyne’s dried heart swells in anticipation of the humiliation this will bring to Minnie.

The gentle Minnie in Amy Blackman’s beautifully nuanced performance has enough problems already. His new marriage has turned into strife, and Luther (Tom Coiner) is a self-pitying grump. Still, it seems a bit of a stretch when she says in the heat of her anger she would prefer a “drunken husband who beat me up” to a mother’s son.

Written in a bold, distinctive dialect of the East Midlands where Lawrence grew up, the text leaves room for Luther to have some appealing qualities, but it’s not entirely jagged and complex here. There’s not even a sexual spark to make sense of Minnie’s choice to be with him – which is a problem, because we need to have a stake in their relationship’s success.

His brother Joe (Ciaran Bowling) is at least kind to him, mostly; When not, the tenor change is more confusing than anything else.

As with many Mint productions, the game’s back story is part of the charm. Lawrence’s father was a miner; His mother, to whom he was extremely close, came from a slightly higher class. He wrote the screenplay in the years after his death in 1910, around the same time he wrote the similarly-themed novel Sons and Lovers.

It was not staged during Lawrence’s lifetime (and pre-directed 2003 by Platt for the Mint), “Mother-in-law” at times feels like a purgatory—a playwright in her 20s who has finally rebelled against her beloved mother who had demanded too much of her emotionally. It may seem as though Minnie is channeling the playwright’s own scarred anger when she blames Miss Gascoyne for thwarting Luther, as if he had no authority. But rebellion is not the same as revenge.

“The world is made of men to me, girl,” Ms. Gascoyne tells Minnie.

But in Lawrence’s gaming world, women are the stars.

At New York City Center Stage II, Manhattan, until March 20; minttheater.org. Working time: 2 hours 20 minutes.

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