A polished production of Arnold Bennett’s 1909 social comedy What the Public Wants opened at the Mint Theater Company in the heart of Times Square on Thursday January 27, 2011. The Mint is renowned for finding neglected works of art and giving them sterling productions. Their latest discovery is a smart satire on tabloid journalism that makes interesting parallels to the current media frenzy for delving into the private aspects of celebrities’ lives, which has only been heightened by the unscrupulousness of today’s internet, giving the play a timeliness that feels particularly relevant now.
Loosely inspired by the ascent of Lord Northcliffe, a Rupert Murdock like character and founder of Britain’s tabloid, The Daily Mail, the story follows a media mogul’s struggles to boast circulation of his numerous publications – by giving the public what he believes they want – while coping with the entanglements of his personal relationships and the effects of his engagement on his publishing empire.
Roger Hanna has provided a meticulously handsome design, a particular strong point of every mint production. And director Matthew Arbour has assembled a strong assemble of excellent actors that include Rob Breckenridge as the publisher Sir Charles, a beautifully understated Marc Vietor as his long estranged brother Francis, Ellen Adair as Emily, Sir Charles’ fiancé, and Jeremy Lawrence as the caustic theater critic Simon MacQuoid. The cast pulls out all the stops in Bennett’s spirited debate concerning art and commerce and money and love. What the cast lacks in nuance they more than make up with skill and panache in the Mint’s thought provoking evening that engages until the final fade out. Patrick Christiano
WHAT THE PUBLIC WANTS is now playing at the Mint Theater Company, 311 West 43rd Street between 8th & 9th Aves. For Tickets call 212-315-0231 or online at minttheater.org
Opening Night Photography: Barry Gordin