By: Paulanne Simmons
October 26, 2023: The most important character In Partnership, Elizabeth Baker’s 1917 romantic comedy, may be Sally the mannequin whose impassive face and nonexistent heart represent the way clothing boutique owner Kate Rolling and associate, Maisie Glow see the world from their Brighton, England dress shop. In this cautionary tale, the mannequin epitomizes everything a woman should not be. The opposite view is embodied in Kate’s infatuated assistant Gladys Tracey and the freewheeling gentleman, Lawrence Fawcett.
The Mint’s production, directed by Jackson Grace Gay, starts briskly thanks to Baker’s engaging dialogue and the skill of the actors, principally Sara Haider as Kate, Gene Gillette as George Pillatt and Olivia Gilliatt as Maisie. The staging is also quite colorful, with kudos going to costume designer Kindall Almond and set designer Alexander Woodward.
Pillatt, a cool and calculating businessman and Kate’s competition, proposes a business partnership, along with a more personal marriage proposal. The benefits of a business partnership are clear. Why he wants the marriage is never really explained.
All goes well until Lawrence Fawcett (Joshua Echebiri) enters the scene. The totally romantic, devil-may-care Fawcett immediately captures Kate’s attention and soon captures her heart. Fawcett is the scion of a family made wealthy by corsets (an apt metaphor for the constricted life) but is really interested in dyes (hard to figure out why this is more enticing than corsets). Pillatt considers Fawcett a useless slacker.
Soon Kate is skipping work and missing appointments in favor of nature walks and boat rides. The question is why? Although Fawcett is certainly more desirable than Pillatt, he is hardly an attractive, engaging or exciting suitor. In fact he is more awkward than carefree. If he whets Kate’s appetite for romance, we can’t help but think that appetite would be satisfied by someone much different.
Nevertheless, Kate and Fawcett’s relationship proceeds inexorably to its ending. As that ending becomes more and more obvious and inevitable, the play becomes less and less interesting. This is not entirely the fault of the play.
After all, Baker was writing at a time when women had few alternatives to marriage, and when they did venture outside that venerated institution, their social and financial standing was at best precarious. So it should not be so surprising that Kate is willing to accept the offer of a loveless but lucrative marriage. And her decision, whatever it might be, is not an easy one. But none of this resonates particularly well with a modern audience.
The Mint’s production is a faithful, beautifully constructed staging of a play that may not truly be worth such effort.
410 West 42 Street
Runs through Nov. 12, 2023
Photography: Todd Cerveris