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"A Little Journey" Is Well Worth a Trip to the Mint
"A Little Journey"
Directed by Jackson Gay
Mint Theater Company
311 West 43rd Street
Opening June 6, 2011
Tuesday through Thursday at 7 PM, Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM, Sunday at 2 PM
Tickets are $55, a limited number of seats for every performance at half-price ($27.50). (212) 315-0231 or www.minttheater.org
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons May 31, 2011
Samantha Soule as Julie and McCaleb Burnett as Jim West. Photo by Richard Termine.
If ever there ever was a play that deserved the description, "They don’t make them like that anymore," it would be Rachel Crothers' "A Little Journey." The play's optimistic view that goodness lies deep inside all of us has little favor nowadays but is nevertheless sorely missed by some. Although few people have heard of the playwright today, at the height of her career, during the first three decades of the 20th century, she had almost thirty shows on Broadway.
Born of Crothers' belief that money does not make people happy, a belief reinforced by a chance encounter with a cheerful but impoverished lad while vacationing by the seashore, "A Little Journey" recounts the spiritual awakening of Julie, a young lady who has no skills, no money and no prospects in life. Although the light-hearted drama received favorable reviews when it was produced in 1918 and was a nominee for the Pulitzer, it has been largely forgotten. All of which makes it a perfect choice for Mint Theater Company.
Set in a train going west from New York City (Crothers got the idea for the setting during her train ride back from vacation), "A Little Journey" presents the audience with a diverse and interesting cast of characters. In the Mint production, these characters are played by a talented cast wisely directed by Jackson Gay.
Samantha Soule as Julie and Laurie Birmingham as Mrs. Welch. Photo by Richard Termine.
Samantha Soule is the soulful Julie, the young lady who is traveling to her brother’s house, where she doesn’t expect a particularly warm reception. McCaleb Burnett is Jim West, the romantic hero who has reclaimed his life as a rancher out West. Jim wants only to help, whether it is Julie, who loses her ticket and needs someone to pay her fare, or Annie (Jennifer Blood), a young lady traveling with her baby.
The characters aboard the train also include Lily (Chet Siegel), a young lady traveling with her hard-of-hearing grandmother, Mrs. Bay (the delightful Rosemary Prinz); two college students, Frank (Ben Hollandsworth) and Charles (Ben Roberts); a traveling salesman named Leo (Craig Wroe); Mr. Smith (Douglas Rees), an obnoxious wealthy man with his own compartment; and an equally obnoxious aging matron, Mrs. Welch (the scene-stealing Laurie Birmingham). Genially presiding over them all is the hardworking porter (Anthony L. Gaskins).
Given such a combination of characters it's obvious from the very start that love is in the air. Under the watchful and disapproving eye of Mrs. Welch, Lily and Frank strike up an fumbling attachment, and Jim sets out to win over Julie. Frank seems to be having a great deal more success until an unexpected turn of events (which this reviewer does not have the heart to reveal for fear of ruining the surprise) shifts the balance in Jim's favor. At the same time it turns this group of disparate people into a real community.
McCaleb Burnett as Jim West, Jennifer Blood as Annie, and Anthony L. Gaskins as the porter. Photo by Richard Termine.
Set designer Roger Hanna has done a brilliant job, putting the train cars on a turntable, which duplicates the trains movement, allows the audience to see into the different sections of the train and keeps the action moving seamlessly from scene to scene.
"A Little Journey" has had it’s own little journey through various productions. It ran for 252 performances on Broadway, transferring from the Little Theater to the Vanderbilt during its run. After Broadway, the show went on tour, and in 1927, it was made into a silent film that is unfortunately lost.
Along with their favorable reviews, some critics noted how the play moved members of the audience, many of whom lingered in their seats afterward "to cling to the men and women of Miss Crothers' imagination as one would hold onto friends," according to one New York Herald reviewer. Surely many who watch the Mint's admirable production will have the same reaction.
We live in different times. These days we are more likely to question the motives of people who end up acting as generously as many do on this journey. Or we think ambivalent heroes are more interesting and believable. Yet something of the tremendous humanity in "A Little Journey," one hopes, can still touch even the most cynical amongst us.
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