The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd

The ultra-literary Mint Theater's latest project is the New York premiere of D.H. Lawrence's strange, unjustly forgotten play "The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd," about a mistreated wife at the end of her rope.

Mrs. Holroyd … Julia Coffey Holroyd … Eric Martin Brown Blackmore … Nick Cordileone Jack Holroyd … Dalton Harrod/Lance Chantiles-Wertz Minnie Holroyd … Emma Kantor/Amanda Roberts Grandmother … Randy Danson Rigley … James Warke Clara … Pilar Witherspoon Laura … Sheila Stasack Manager … Allyn Burrows Miner … Arthur Lazalde

The ultra-literary Mint Theater’s latest project is the New York premiere of D.H. Lawrence’s strange, unjustly forgotten play “The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd,” about a mistreated wife at the end of her rope. Helmer Stuart Howard gives the compact piece a delicate staging that accentuates its characters’ depths, and fine performances by Julia Coffey and Eric Martin Brown flesh out its central troubled marriage. The production is a major get for bookworms and theater buffs alike, repping a rare chance to see Lawrence’s world alive on stage.

Howard and dialect coach/dramaturg Amy Stoller immerse the whole production in rural England circa 1914 (when Lawrence wrote the play), with finely-tuned accents and careful work by set designer Marion Williams and costumer Martha Hally. Williams in particular has hit on a great idea for the stage: the Holroyds’ house is a floor and a door, giving it that airy, everbody-knows-your-business feeling familiar to anyone who’s lived in a small town.

To be fair to the locals, the Holroyds’ business is wonderful store-counter gossip. Elizabeth (Coffey) has had about enough of the boozing and skirt-chasing of her husband Charles (Brown), and her two kids, Jack (Dalton Harrod) and Minnie (Amanda Roberts) are near despair. The one ray of sunshine in Elizabeth’s pale little life is local electrician Blackmore (Nick Cordileone). Remember, this is 1914 — Charles is a miner. Electricians are hot stuff.

It’s a setup that could birth any number of melodramatic payoffs. Exchanges from its first act, in fact, sound a little like the Fred MacMurray/Barbara Stanwyck banter from “Double Indemnity” (“I don’t want to be the ruin of you!” he protests. “Don’t you?” she breathes). Howard, however, makes sure the seeds of doubt Lawrence sows in the first act — Blackmore won’t say that he loves Elizabeth, for example, merely that he wants her — are allowed to take root before they bloom into full-fledged disaster an hour later.

The play really becomes interesting when the supposedly monstrous Charles finally stumbles home with a couple of girls (Pilar Witherspoon and Sheila Stasack) in tow. He’s definitely a lout, he certainly upsets the kids, and he’s extremely rude to his wife. But from what he says, and what she returns, it sounds like this marriage went wrong a long time before he started staying out all night with the local trollops.

Worse, Charles seems to know that something — though it’s not clear exactly how much philandering anybody in this play has done — is going on with Blackmore. Charles’ mother (a nice turn by Randy Danson, possibly the world champion player of disagreeable old ladies) suspects something, too.

Lawrence has crafted these characters so carefully they seem like people we know. Charles and Elizabeth’s marriage is not merely bad, it’s recognizably bad and its consequences are clear. For all his hatred of his dad, little Jack appears to be his father’s son and it’s easy to see his capacity to go similarly wrong, even as young as he is. The characters’ virtues and vices are both well-realized by the cast and quintessentially Lawrence’s own.

This is the second Lawrence play the Mint has dug up in the last few years (the writer’s 1911 “The Daughter-In-Law” had its first Stateside production from the company in 2003), and it’s a very unusual piece. The attitudes and prejudices of century-old smalltown England don’t jibe with the prevailing outlook in 21st century Manhattan, but the production’s total commitment to the era draws us in, rather than trying to translate it for us. The result is something totally unexpected and unavailable anywhere else in New York theater.

Popular on Variety

The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd

Mint Theater Company; 100 seats; $55 top

Production: A Mint Theater presentation of a play in two acts by D.H. Lawrence. Directed by Stuart Howard.

Creative: Set, Marion Williams; costumes, Martha Hally; lighting, Jeff Nellis; sound, Jane Shaw; dialect coach, dramaturg, Amy Stoller; production stage manager, Allison Deutch. Opened March 1, 2009. Reviewed Feb. 26. Running time: 1 HOUR, 55 MIN.

Cast: Mrs. Holroyd … Julia Coffey Holroyd … Eric Martin Brown Blackmore … Nick Cordileone Jack Holroyd … Dalton Harrod/Lance Chantiles-Wertz Minnie Holroyd … Emma Kantor/Amanda Roberts Grandmother … Randy Danson Rigley … James Warke Clara … Pilar Witherspoon Laura … Sheila Stasack Manager … Allyn Burrows Miner … Arthur Lazalde

More Legit

  • Lungs review

    London Theater Review: 'Lungs' Starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith

    What, to ask the perennial theatergoer’s question, is Duncan Macmillan’s “Lungs” about? It’s about climate change, isn’t it? No, it’s a play about deciding whether to have a baby. Actually, like his earlier success “People, Places, Things,” in which Macmillan balanced a personal story with a depiction of addiction, it’s a juggling of two subjects [...]

  • Bella Bella review

    Off Broadway Review: Harvey Fierstein's 'Bella Bella'

    Harvey Fierstein is one busy guy. A Broadway institution with four Tony Awards for acting (“Torch Song Trilogy,” “Hairspray”) and playwriting (“Torch Song Trilogy,” “La Cage aux Folles”), he has also written everything from teleplays (“The Wiz Live!”, “Hairspray Live!”) to an award-winning children’s book, “The Sissy Duckling.” His movie work includes “Mrs. Doubtfire” and [...]

  • Soft Power Jeanine Tesori

    Listen: Jeanine Tesori and the 'Soft Power' of Musicals to Change Minds

    The title of “Soft Power,” the new play-cum-musical by playwright David Henry Hwang and composer Jeanine Tesori, refers to cultural influence — in this case the cultural influence of America on China, and of China on the U.S. According to Tesori, the term might also describe the force that musical theater itself can exert in [...]

  • Jane Alexander James Cromwell

    Jane Alexander, James Cromwell to Star in Broadway's 'Grand Horizons'

    Jane Alexander and James Cromwell will head up the Broadway cast of Bess Wohl’s “Grand Horizons.” The two Oscar nominees will star as Bill and Nancy, a couple whose five-decade-long relationship unravels when they move to a retirement community. After Nancy decides she wants a divorce, her family life is sent into disarray. The show [...]

  • Chasing Rainbows review

    New Jersey Theater Review: Judy Garland Bio 'Chasing Rainbows'

    Judy Garland’s voice was unparalleled and rich, an emotive contralto that lasted long into her later years with a loud and winning showiness to go with its melodramatic nuances. But that voice concealed a troubled backstory, as the woman born Frances Ethel Gumm toted the baggage of a closeted gay father, an ugly duckling’s insecurity [...]

  • Broadway Review: David Byrne's 'American Utopia'

    Broadway Review: David Byrne's 'American Utopia'

    One constant of David Byrne’s long and prolific career is his ability to grow a seemingly simple idea into something brilliant, whether it’s the melody of “Road to Nowhere” or the concept of the “Stop Making Sense” tour some 36 years ago, where the premise of bringing out nine musicians, one at a time per [...]

  • The Sound Inside review

    Broadway Review: 'The Sound Inside' Starring Mary-Louise Parker

    Mary-Louise Parker will take your breath away with her deeply felt and sensitively drawn portrait of a tenured Yale professor who treasures great literature, but has made no room in her life for someone to share that love with. The other thesp in this two-hander is Will Hochman, endearing in the supportive role of a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content