An admirably energetic production of a 1910 feminist play at the well-regarded Metropolitan Playhouse.
By Joel Benjamin
Rachel Crothers was a prolific playwright during the first third of the twentieth century. She advocated for a number of socially advanced causes including gender equality. Her play A Man’s World, written in 1910, is about a young woman, Frank Ware, a successful writer who has adopted a child, the product of an out-of-wedlock affair in which the mother died in childbirth and the father abandoned her to this terrible fate. Frank holds this anonymous male in the highest contempt. He represents all that is wrong with the male sex. This provides the emotional underpinning of A Man’s World and the crux of the plot.
Ms. Crothers deftly populated her play with a colorful cast of characters, a cross-section of bohemian New York City at that time. They live in a building filled to the brim with artists, kind of a precursor to the eccentric household in Kaufman & Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You. There is a German musician Fritz Bahn; a playwright Wells Trevor; a French artist Emile Grimbaux; an opera prima donna Lione Brune; a painter of miniatures Clara Oakes; and Malcolm Gaskell a successful writer. Kiddie, the boy Frank adopted, rounds out the cast. Kiddie is now a cute eight year old, the mascot of this little village. Ms. Crothers just barely avoids caricaturing this household of eccentrics. The intense and rounded acting by the Metropolitan Playhouse cast in the intimate theater space helps keep these characters believable.
Amidst the skillfully written character studies, the play’s dramatic backbone becomes the revealing of the name of Kiddie’s biological father. Clara, the miniaturist, puts on a little exhibit in her apartment, hoping to sell enough paintings to pay for the rent and food. She is helped by Frank’s calm mentoring. Amongst her little paintings is one of Kiddie, a portrait that seems to solve the paternity issue, leading to gossip and accusations that cause Frank to fear for her reputation and for her relationship with Gaskell who is wooing her ardently. Of course Ms. Crothers reveals who fathered Kiddie and the fallout in the last scene must have been shocking in 1910. Even in 2013, the writing is powerful enough to register all the emotional and social repercussions on this cast of characters.
The Metropolitan Playhouse production of A Man’s World, directed by Michael Hardart, is a clear-eyed staging which avoids melodrama. Michael Fader is a sweet Kiddie, handling his role with precocious professionism. Perri Yaniv as Fritz wears his heart on his sleeve and produces a very good German accent. Wells Trevor is the palest of the characters, but Timothy Christopher Goodwin never allows himself to disappear amongst the more colorful personalities. Dane Dandridge handles Emile’s arch Frenchness with panache and Regina Gibson plays the gossipy bitch Lione with great energy and style. Kendall Rileigh makes the meek Clara an object of sympathy without appearing pathetic.
Frank may be the calm center around which the lives of these people rotate, but as played by Kathleen Dobbs, she is a bit too calm, often disappearing amidst the eccentric personalities as they swirl around her. She needs to command the stage more.
The set, designed by Alex Roe is one of the more extravagant ones they have used and very exact in its evocation of the era as were the elaborate costumes of Sidney Fortner.
* Photographer: Jacob J. Goldberg Photography
A Man’s World – September 14th – October 13th, 2013
220 East 4th St., between Aves. A & B
New York, NY
Tickets and Information: 800-838-3006 or www.metropolitanplayhouse.org
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes with one intermission