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Paulanne Simmons

This Day By the Sea Goes on for Too Long

A Day By the Sea
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Mint Theater Company
Resident theater company at The Beckett Theater at Theatre Row
410 West 42 Street
Opened Aug. 25, 2016
Tuesday – Saturday 7:30pm, Saturday & Sunday 2:30pm, Wednesday 8/24 & 9/21
Tickets: $57.50 www.telecharge.com
Closes Sept. 24, 2016
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Aug. 28, 2016

During the 1950s, N.C. Hunter was a leading British playwright. Now his name has fallen into oblivion. This makes Hunter’s work the perfect hunting ground for Mint Theater Company, which three years ago revived the playwright’s “A Picture of Autumn.”

Katie Firth, Jill Tanner, Kylie McVey, Polly McKie, Athan Sporek, Philip Goodwin, Julian Elfer, Curzon Dobell, and George Morfogen in A DAY BY THE SEA by N.C. Hunter. Photo by Richard Termine.

In “A Picture of Autumn,” Hunter exhibited for the first time a strong Chekhovian influence. The Mint’s current production, “A Day By the Sea,” written two years later, continued with themes of intergenerational conflict, regret and the inability to change. Except, while “A Picture of Autumn” was not picked up for a West End run after its one- night debut, “A Day By the Sea” ran for 386 performances at the Haymarket. Directed by John Gielgud, who also played the lead, diplomat Julian Anson, the production featured notables such as Irene Worth and Sir Ralph Richardson.

However, “A Day By the Sea” did not fare so well on Broadway, running for only 24 performances. Perhaps this was a sign that Hunter, along with other writers of his generation, Noel Coward, Terrence Rattigan and J.B. Priestly, would soon be supplanted by younger, grittier and angrier playwrights.


For this revival, the Mint has brought back the much esteemed Austin Pendleton to direct. They have also assembled a more than capable cast, with Julian Elfer as the less than successful diplomat and Katie Firth as the twice divorced Elinor Eddison, the girl he let slip through his fingers twenty years ago. Jill Tanner is excellent as Laura Anson, Julian’s concerned and sometimes confused mother, and Polly McKie gives the play pathos and humor as Miss Mathieson, the governess of Eddison’s children. While Philip Goodwin is outstanding as the drunk and dissipated Doctor Farley, who cares for the aging Uncle David (George Morfogen)


Philip Goodwin, Jill Tanner, Polly McKie, Kylie McVey, Katie Firth, Curzon Dobell, Athan Sporek, and Julian Elfer in A DAY BY THE SEA by N.C. Hunter. Photo by Richard Termine.

. But all this is not enough to overcome the cumbersome plot and the glacial slowness with which it unwinds. There are two basic questions that have to be answered in this drama. Will Elinor and Julian be able to find the the lost path that might have led to happiness? Will Doctor Farley and Miss Mathieson be able to bridge the barriers of age and class so they will not end their lives lonely and miserable? It doesn’t take three hours to answer these questions.

If Chekhov’s characters spend all their time bemoaning their fate and trying to decide whether or not to leave for Moscow or chop down the cherry orchard, they have a certain charm and quirkiness that makes us bear with them. The same is not true for the people who inhabit the Anson’s seaside home. While Chekhov’s characters are warm, funny and foolish, Hunter’s are stiff and unemotional. When we hear the axes chopping down those trees at the end of “The Cherry Orchard,” we feel real pain, but when we realize Elinor and Julian cannot set back the clock, we expect she will do just fine without him, probably finding another man she can inflict with her narcissism; and he will straighten his tie and go forth to woo a woman who will be more susceptible to his charms (or lack of them). As for Mathieson and Farley, Hunter does not devote enough time to their possible romance to allow us to care.

There are times the Mint really does discover lost gems. This is not one of them.


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