Lillian Hellman’s “Days to Come” begins with domestic conspiracy in an expensively appointed living room — one servant firmly coaxing another to hand over her wages because, she says, “The boys need it.” In the middle of the Great Depression, the local men are striking against the factory that is the engine of their Ohio town, and the dispute shows no sign of being resolved. In fact, it’s about to amp up.
The excellent Kim Martin-Cotten plays the more senior of the servants in the factory owners’ home, and in her eminently human dispatch of the scene, hope blooms for the Mint Theater Company’s handsomely designed revival (set by Harry Feiner, costumes by Andrea Varga). Might it make sense of Hellman’s sprawling, centerless play?
Short answer: not really, no. Directed by J.R. Sullivan in the Beckett Theater at Theater Row in Manhattan, it’s a mishmash of acting styles in a tonally uneven production that rarely wipes the dust of decades from the text. It’s an overloaded play — there’s a reason it was such a resounding flop in its Broadway premiere, in 1936 — but there is more life in it than the Mint staging finds.
If the drama can be said to have main characters, they are the cardigan-clad factory boss, Andrew Rodman (Larry Bull), and his restless wife, Julie (Janie Brookshire): he, midlife mildness personified; she, beautiful, bored and in search of adventure. When a handsome labor organizer named Whalen (Roderick Hill) comes to town, she thinks she may have found it.
Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” and Clifford Odets’s “Waiting for Lefty” were recent additions to the culture when “Days to Come” was new; it’s no surprise that Hellman would venture into the topical territory of economic division and labor strife. The odd thing is the abstractness of her perspective. We meet just a single worker, Andrew’s old friend Thomas Firth (Chris Henry Coffey), and we never do get much sense of the town that’s so dear to Andrew.
We know it’s a desperate betrayal, though, that he’s let himself be persuaded to import big-city strikebreakers. Happily for the audience, the two assigned to guard the house — the knuckle-cracking Mossie (Geoffrey Allen Murphy) and the short-tempered Joe (Evan Zes) — are cartoon thugs, delivering welcome laughs.
Andrew, by contrast, is so passive that he barely registers until deep in the second act. That’s not Mr. Bull’s fault; Hellman wrote him that way. She appears most interested in Julie, an intriguing character (maybe a sketch for “The Little Foxes”?) played too flatly here. Ms. Brookshire seems hamstrung by a performance style straight out of period movies. So do Mr. Hill and Mary Bacon, who plays Cora, Andrew’s spoiled, sniping sister.
As an interpretive impulse, such borrowing is understandable. Hellman was also a screenwriter, and “Days to Come” feels like she couldn’t decide whether she was writing a play or a film. Opened up on the screen, it might have blossomed. Onstage in this revival, it simply wilts.
Days to Come
Through Oct. 6 at the Beckett Theater at Theater Row, Manhattan; 212-239-6200, minttheater.org. Running time: 2 hours.