The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd
nytheatre.com review by Peter Schuyler
February 28, 2009
The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd is the story of a marriage in trouble. It is the story of a husband trying to escape the scorn and bitterness of a woman who resents the hold he has on her. It is the story of a wife trying desperately to make a safe home for her young children amidst the coarseness of a soot-blackened coal mining village—safe from her drunken husband, from her meddling mother-in-law—and from the passion of the man who wants to take her away.
- from the press release
The Mint Theater's production of D.H. Lawrence's little-produced gem is a sometimes moving portrayal of a woman trapped—by societal expectations, by family, by religion, and by her own fear of change. It is the early 1900s in the English Midlands town of Eastwood; a dismal coal mining town mired in routine. The play depicts two evenings during which we bear witness to the events that will shatter a family already on the brink. I don't feel I'm giving anything away by writing that; the ending of the play is made abundantly clear by the title.
About the play—Mrs. Holroyd is a strong-minded woman married to a drunken lout of a man. When Mr. Holroyd is not down the mine, he's down the pub. His children are frightened of his violence and shouting, and cotton much more to Mr. Blackmore, a young electrician who harbors a secret love for Mrs. Holroyd. When in a drunken stupor Mr. Holroyd brings home two women from the pub, what little love was left between the couple snaps, leaving Mrs. Holroyd with a choice between her heart or her duty to her family.
This is a strong, albeit flawed production. There are a lot of elements at play and some shine a great deal more than others. Stuart Howard's direction is dynamic and gives the cast room to play, but in some cases they come close to hanging themselves with all the extra rope. Amy Stoller's contributions must be lauded; she had an incredibly difficult job assisting the cast with a rather obscure British dialect. Her primer in the program is immensely helpful in understanding some of the more difficult passages in the play.
Though there is some difficulty with the dialect, the ensemble does a fine job in bringing their respective characters to life: Nick Cordileone as Blackmore paints a vibrant portrait of a man trying to understand love with a limited emotional vocabulary, and Randy Danson's Grandmother is a stunning portrayal of a woman beaten down by compromise. But this is hands down Julia Coffey's show. As Mrs. Holroyd she has us from the very beginning of the piece; her dignity and strength carry the show with grace, especially through some of the rougher patches.
The technical elements border on masterful. Marion Williams's set—a coal framed drab house with a door but no walls—makes a strong metaphorical comment about the play. Jeff Nellis's lights and Martha Hally's costumes ground us solidly in the period, further accenting the dolor and decay that the location inflicts on its inhabitants.
I want to make it clear that I liked this production in spite of its flaws. It is not very often that we get an opportunity to see history cross the boards, and though this show is by no means perfect, it is well worth the price of admission.