In today’s Wall Street Journal, I review the U.S. premiere of Miles Malleson’s Conflict, first staged in London in 1925 and never performed since then. Here’s an excerpt.
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Forty-nine years after his death, Miles Malleson has become the answer to a trivia question. He was one of those funny-faced comic character actors (one of his three wives claimed that he looked “exactly like a hobgoblin”) whom everyone remembers but few know by name, the English counterpart of Eugene Pallette or S.Z. Sakall. The list of distinguished films in which he played small but striking parts includes “The Importance of Being Earnest,” “Kind Hearts and Coronets” (he was the hangman), “The Man in the White Suit,” “Peeping Tom,” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Stage Fright” and “The 39 Steps,” and he also had a similarly noteworthy stage career, most famously as Polonius to John Gielgud’s Hamlet in 1944. In addition, though, Malleson wrote a fair number of plays, some of which were briefly successful but all of which are now forgotten. That’s where the Mint Theater Company comes in.
The Mint, a much-admired off-Broadway troupe which specializes in digging up what it calls “worthwhile plays from the past that have been lost or forgotten,” is presenting the U.S. premiere—in fact, the first revival anywhere—of Malleson’s “Conflict,” a 1925 drama about two college friends (Jeremy Beck and Henry Clarke) who run against one another for a seat in the House of Commons and turn out to be in love with the same woman (Jessie Shelton). It is an immaculately well-made, comprehensively satisfying piece of theater, old-fashioned in style without feeling at all dated, and the Mint’s production, directed by Jenn Thompson and featuring an ensemble cast of supreme merit, is beyond praise….
In private life, Malleson was a deadly earnest socialist, a Labour Party activist and (latterly) Communist fellow traveler whose plays were vehicles for his left-wing views. But if that sounds discouraging, fear not: In “Conflict,” Malleson embedded his world-saving politics in a soundly plotted drama whose light tone is more reminiscent of a drawing-room comedy than a Shavian play of ideas and which ends with a bases-loaded coup de théâtre. It’s as though one of John Galsworthy’s plays had been rewritten by Terence Rattigan….
Regular readers of this column need no reminding that Ms. Thompson is an artist of unusual versatility. I’ve seen her stage everything from “Oklahoma!” to Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers,” always with total understanding of the material and a willingness to let it speak for itself instead of imposing her own style. What stands out in her production of “Conflict” is its understated delicacy…
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Read the whole thing here.