As I was leaving the Mint Theatre after their simply marvelous production of J.B. Priestly's 1957 drama, The Glass Cage, I overheard a woman saying to her companion, "That play had everything! Greed… love… revenge… sex… everything!"
I think she summed it up very nicely.
The Mint's artistic director, Jonathan Bank, has a sharp eye for what the company calls "forgotten, but worthy" plays. This one, making its American premiere under the graceful direction of Lou Jacob, is truly a lost gem.
Written for Canada's Crest Theatre, the action takes place at the well-appointed home of Toronto's McBane family, shortly after the turn of the 20th Century. Deeply religious family patriarch David (Gerry Bamman) runs the household with his brother Malcolm (Jack Wetherall) and Mildred (Robin Moseley), the sister of their deceased brother. Years earlier a fourth brother had signed off his share of the family business for full ownership of one of their lesser holdings, which went bust under his leadership. As the play begins, the three adult children born of his marriage to an Indian woman (Native Canadian?) are coming to stay in the McBane household after their mother's death. At first they seem like shy, uncultured sorts, but eventually it's revealed they grew up with daily reminders from mom that they live poor because their father was swindled out of a healthy living by his brothers.
Douglas (Aaron Krohn), the eldest of the trio, demands they receive a substantial inheritance from the McBane estate to a shocked David, who has a very different recollection of the circumstances behind his brother's estrangement from the family. Meanwhile, David's sweet daughter Elspie (Sandra-Struthers-Clere), who is being courted by Mildred's minister-to-be nephew, John (Chad Hoeppner), has taken a liking to her new-found cousin, the hard-drinking party boy, Angus (Saxon Palmer). John has become equally fascinated by the intelligent and sexually aggressive McBane middle child Jean (Jeanine Serralles).
After family secrets are uncovered, prejudices revealed and legs are bared in a "shocking" celebration of dance (a lively break from the sceaming and manipulations) Priestley cleverly takes us to an unexpected and fully satisfying conclusion.
The solid ensemble cast includes standout performances by the vibrantly-voiced Bamman as the rich man who isn't necessarily the villain in the piece, and Serralles, as a woman both proud of and ashamed by her upbringing. Chet Carlin charms in some lighter scenes as the family doctor.
As is the norm for Mint Productions, the design is first rate with Marcus Doshi supplying lights and Camille Assaf the period costumes. Roger Hanna's fascinating set shows the skeleton of the home and the trim of its shiny marble floors in copper-colored piping, truly giving us the glass cage through which little can be kept secret.
Photos by Richard Termine: Top: Saxon Palmer, Gerry Bamman and Aaron Krohn; Bottom: Jeanine Serralles and Saxon Palmer