By Eric Uhlfelder
Mint Theater’s latest production, Partnership, is a joyful, light-hearted piece of theatrical fantasy where the protagonist decides to back off her life’s work—at the very moment that remarkable success is within reach—for the rapture of unexpected love.
Sara Haider’s Kate Rolling—the owner of a small Brighton fashion boutique and the play’s protagonist–is a revelation. She sparkles on stage with eyes aglow and a penchant for full-throated expression—despite a very business-like demeanor on display during the first half of the show.
Actors Gene Gillette (as George Pillatt), Sara Haidar (Kate Rolling), and Joshua Echebiri (Lawrence Fawcett)
Photo credit: Todd Cerveris
Mint productions are always wonderfully cast. A constant is a compelling ensemble that artistic director Jonathan Bank has brought to the stage in producing lost plays for nearly three decades. This is very much the case here.
But I don’t ever recall a single player stealing the show as does Ms. Haidar. But that’s exactly what she achieves in her off-Broadway debut—which just doesn’t seem possible, except when learning that Haidar is a Juilliard graduate where she earned several acting awards.
Partnership is the final leg of Jonathan Bank’s homage to British playwright Elizabeth Baker. When captivated, Bank goes all in to help audiences learn about such forgotten authors.
Maya Cantu, the Mint’s resident theatrical historian, provides finely detailed notes about Baker. The author of 13 produced players, often focused on women breaking bonds of class and gender, Baker drew acclaim from her first staged show in 1909, “Chains,” at the Court Theater in London. A critic described Baker as a “new playwright of unmistakable dramatic genius.”
Partnership, first performed in 1917, certainly continues Baker’s desire to see women break free of early 20th-century roles. Kate Rolling starts the action quite independently, running a thriving fashion shop. Ambition drives her to consider expansion into a vacant space next door.
In learning that a far larger competitor, George Pillat, is also looking at the same space, she begins to entertain the idea of partnership with the quite dull and singularly focused entrepreneur.
Both characters being quite driven by business with no interest in romance and the world beyond their doors, the two plan a partnership that would tie them together professionally and in a marriage of sheer convenience. (Why the latter must be part of the deal is far from clear, except when considering at the time marriage was essential for one to be considered respectable.)
But the inevitable introduction of a third party, an independent free-spirited Lawrence Fawcett, played charmingly by Joshua Echiebiri, throws a monkey wrench into Kate’s plans.
A visual highlight of the production is an impressionist backdrop that fills the stage in the play’s second act painted by James Hart Dyke. It props a diversionary walk by the cast in the British countryside that helps reveal the splendors beyond a shop’s walls—if one only wants them.
Director Jackson Grace Gay helps deliver a well-paced and finely tuned and acted production. And like all Mint shows, set design, by Alexander Woodward, is time perfect, helping to bring us back a century ago.
Partnership is running through November 12th at the Mint Theater in Theater Row at 410 West 42nd Street.
Written by Elizabeth Baker
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Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street