Friday, July 15, 2022

A Few Brief Thoughts on Some (More) Interesting Short Films

A scene from Ottó Foky’s Scenes with Beans (1976).

It’s been a year and a half since my last shorts roundup, and the pandemic is still ongoing; the only difference is that people are starting to not care anymore. I wonder if it has something to do with how the internet has diminished our attention spans and memories. In any case, here in chronological order of premiere date are the shorts I watched that engaged me enough to want to finish them and write about them. If I don’t provide a link, I saw it on MUBI.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Chains: A Resurrection from the Mint Theater

Laakan McHardy and Jeremy Beck in Chains. (Photo: Todd Cerveris)

The Mint Theater Company, an off-Broadway house in the business of reviving obscure European and American plays, has been on my radar for several years, but I had never seen one until they began to stream shows from their archive while the New York theatre was shut down by the pandemic. The plays themselves were interesting, but what struck me was the high quality of the productions. To be honest, I felt foolish for not having checked out Mint much earlier. (They’ve been around since 1995.)

Their current offering – their second since the reopening of live theatre and their first back in their home space on Theater Row – is Chains, a 1909 realist play from England by Elizabeth Baker. Baker had been inspired to try her hand at playwriting by the work Harley Granville-Barker was presenting at the Court Theater during his three seasons as artistic director. Chains was her first effort, but it’s a sophisticated piece of dramatic writing: skillfully structured, compelling in subject matter and character, illuminated by indisputable authorial intelligence. The social setting is the lower middle class residing in the London suburbs in the years before the First World War. The chains of the title are those imposed by duty, pragmatism and convention. The protagonist, Charley Wilson (played by Jeremy Beck), is a clerk suffocated by the dullness of his job and the dim prospects of improving his lot. He and his wife Lily (Laakan McHardy) live in genteel poverty, taking in boarders to alleviate some of the financial strain. They’re counting on his getting a raise, but instead his company, on the unconvincing excuse that they’ve had a bad year, reduces his pay. When their current boarder, Fred Tennant (Peterson Townsend), decides to walk away from his job and try his luck farming in Australia, his courage and optimism affect both Charley and his sister-in-law Maggie Massey (Olivia Gilliatt), who has become engaged to a man she doesn’t love in order to escape the shop where she’s employed. Everyone else who hears the news of Fred’s decision holds onto the conservative notion that a sure thing, however suffocating to the spirit, is better than a risk; they’re inured to the idea that work isn’t supposed to be pleasant. Only Charley and Maggie identify with his bid for freedom.