Review: 'A Picture of Autumn' is bitersweet

Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Even if you don't actually embrace change, it's wise to at least attempt to adapt.

The perils of ignoring the post-World War II social revolution in England are gently lampooned in "A Picture of Autumn," N.C. Hunter's bittersweet 1951 portrait of an out-of-date family of aristocrats.

The Mint Theater's engaging revival of the drawing-room comedy gets livelier as it progresses. Under the sure hand of Gus Kaikkonen, the accomplished cast keeps the period feel while injecting spirit and humor whenever possible.

Three older members of the Denham family lead a sleepy, isolated life in their once-stately rural home, which has fallen into disrepair since the disappearance of cheap labor. Hunter was considered an "English Chekhov" when this play premiered, so the Denhams yearn for better, bygone days, and when members of the younger generation arrive for a visit, their regrets and futile longings are revealed as well.

George Morfogen is great fun to watch in his expert portrayal of Harry Denham, the very definition of a slightly mad uncle. An 81-year-old crank with a blithe disregard for reality, Harry seems a perfect match for the faded grandeur of the 16th-century estate. Doddering around with perfect timing, Morfogen delivers Harry's sarcasm with expressions ranging from baleful to wistful.

Unable to afford servants, poor Lady Margaret (a lovely portrait of genteel resignation by Jill Tanner) is exhausted from doing all the housework herself. Her only help comes from the dotty, elderly family nurse, (an impish Barbara Eda-Young), whose character is a quirky parody of a loyal family retainer.

Jonathan Hogan exudes a quietly effective complacency as Sir Charles, who spends much of the day dozing off. The arrival of their long-expatriated son, Robert (given a nicely uptight, slightly peevish attitude by Paul Niebanck), and his family blows some mid-century modernity into the dormant household. When Christian Coulson breezes in as Frank, Robert's younger, charming but ne'er-do-well brother, things really liven up.

Katie Firth gives subtle depth to her role as Robert's seemingly placid wife, Elizabeth. Helen Cespedes is refreshingly school-girlish as their teen-age daughter, Felicity, who takes a liking to both the old house and old Harry.

Faced with the unexpected opportunity to sell their property to the government for an agricultural college, the older Denhams comically dither, unable to decide whether to stay or to surrender their home to "the barbarians." As Harry describes them, they're "like three old moth-eaten monkeys in a cage," yet the prospect of huge change naturally frightens them.

The symbolism of autumn may be as a precursor to death, but nature's dormancy also allows living things a hope for renewal in springtime. Whatever the Denhams choose to do with their autumn opportunity, the Mint has once again presented a fine comedic revival.

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Online:

http://minttheater.org

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