Theater Review: 'The Late Christopher Bean'
The Late Christopher Bean
The Epoch Times
November 23, 2009
NEW YORK - Presented by the impeccable TACT (The Actors Company Theatre), Sidney Howard's 1930s "The Late Christopher Bean" is set in the family home of Dr. Haggett (James Murtaugh), not far from Boston. Things are fairly placid, except that the doctor isn’t bringing in as much money as is needed.
The family housekeeper, Abby (Mary Bacon), is getting set to leave their employment that day, but Mrs. Haggett (Cynthia Darlow) won’t miss her; she thinks Abby's too arrogant anyway.
The usual pattern of things is interrupted by a visit from a stranger who calls himself Maxwell Davenport (Greg McFadden). He claims to be a close friend of the deceased painter, Christopher Bean, who used to live with the Haggetts.
Speaking alone with Abby, he pleads with her to let him have as many of Chris Bean's paintings as possible for sentimental reasons. He even offers her a sum of money, which to her eyes, seems more than acceptable. It seems that Abby is the only one in the household who has any interest in Bean’s paintings, which are early works that he left behind before he left town.
Weaving her way into family life is daughter Susan (Jessiee Datino), engaged against her parents' will to a house painter, Warren Creamer (Hunter Canning). That would be marrying beneath her, Mrs. Haggett feels. But Susan is determined. Also about the house is Susan’s sister, Ada (Kate Middleton).
No one in the family seems to realize that Christopher Bean has become quite famous and that his works are in demand and should fetch a good price. Things become more complicated when a New York dealer, Rosen (Bob Ari), comes onto the scene offering to buy anything painted by Bean and for a higher price than Davenport is willing to pay.
It's not over yet. A very distinguished gentleman, who also calls himself Maxwell Davenport (James Prendergast), appears on the scene. It seems that he is the real Davenport and that the man who had visited earlier is an imposter, actually named Tallant, intent on getting Bean's paintings for an unfairly low price. The real Davenport, however, is a respectable dealer willing to pay a fair price.
An air of competition and greed infuses almost every character, which makes for a delightful play, while all of us in the audience can take one side or the other. Which of us would be the noble soul and pay a fair price, and which of us might admit to wanting to greedily grab for as little as possible?
The stakes are high. Interest is shown by the Metropolitan Museum and by a noted New York gallery. Hypocrisy holds sway, as the family must later come to show tremendous respect to the servant, Abby, who holds the reins in regard to the paintings. Mrs. Haggett, particularly, does a complete and very funny turnabout in her attitude toward the young woman.
The denouement is startling and delightful, as at the last minute, one of the characters inadvertently takes the steam out of everyone’s desires and the dust settles firmly and decidedly.
Under Jenn Thompson's meticulous direction, performances are nothing short of magnificent. The cast displays the most wonderful ensemble acting to be seen in New York, or anywhere, I would imagine, in a long time.
However, James Murtaugh’s Dr. Haggett must come in for special mention. When the doctor becomes particularly frazzled, as he does in the latter part of the play, Murtaugh takes the character to the fullest extent of reality, almost overriding reality. But the actor, just an inch short of slapstick, remains always in control and wedded to the truth of what's happening onstage.
Cynthia Darlow as Mrs. Haggett is a terrific foil and excellent in a not very sympathetic role. As mentioned, the rest contribute top-drawer performances.
The set by Charlie Corcoran is appropriately "bus"; Martha Hally's costumes are fine.
"The Late Christopher Bean" is excellent from top to bottom, presented by the very fine TACT.