By: Paulanne Simmons
February 25,2022: With his first play, The Daughter-in-Law, D. H. Lawrence returned once again to familiar territory: Eastwood, the coal mining town in the Erewash Valley where he was born; and mother-son conflicts. When it was completed in 1913, Lawrence was not yet the towering literary giant he was later to become, so it is not surprising that the play was not produced until 1967, when it premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London.
The Mint Theatre Company, whose mission is to revive little known but worthy plays, presented The Daughter-in-Law in 2003, and this season the company has chosen to revive the play once more, under the direction of Martin Platt. Although both this production and the play are certainly notable, it’s hard to understand why the Mint has lavished so much attention on this specific work.
The production features Tom Coiner as Luther Gascoyne, a not-so-young miner who has married Minnie (Amy Blackman), a good woman of some wealth who would make him happy if he could only get loose from his mother. The tension in the household is not helped any by local unrest, as the miners are debating a possible strike.
Luther’s mother (Sandra Shipley) is a solid and suffering miner’s wife who can’t let Luther or his brother Joe (Ciaran Bowling) go for the simple reason that she has nothing else. When Mrs. Gascoyne’s neighbor, Mrs. Purdy (Polly McKie) comes to tell her that Luther got her daughter pregnant before marrying Minnie, Mrs. Gascoyne sees this as a way to create a wedge between Luther and his wife. Joe tries to keep the awful news from Minnie but is unsuccessful.
After bitter arguments, Minnie disappears but quickly returns, having found some unusual ways of keeping her marriage together. There are a few more battles before everyone sees the light.
This may seem like a relatively simple plot. But Lawrence was a master of belaboring a point, and belabor he does. Fortunately, all the members of the cast throw themselves enthusiastically into their roles. We feel for these troubled people, even though thanks to their East Midlands dialect, we sometimes have little idea of what they are actually saying (it gets better as the play progresses).
Set designer Bill Clarke with very little ado changes Mrs. Gascoyne’s spartan kitchen into the more bourgeois kitchen of the elegant home Minnie is trying to create, if Luther will only keep his feet off the couch and wash up when he gets back from the mines
The Daughter-in-Law is all about conflict – between husband and wife, mother and son, mother and daughter-in-law, and between the miners and the mine owners. Even though the play resolves happily, we know there is trouble ahead.
The Daughter-in-Law runs through March 20 at New York City Center Stage II, 131 W 55th St (between 6th & 7th avenues).Photography: Maria Baranova