The Daughter-in–Law was D.H. Lawrence’s first play, written by January 1913. At the time, the subject of colliers and their families dominated his imagination: he had already published the short story “Odour of Chrysanthemums” (1911), about the domestic repercussions of a mining accident, as well as his breakthrough, autobiographical novel, Sons and Lovers. Another play, The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd, was drafted by August. But Lawrence’s attention soon shifted, and his later works were less closely tied to the community in which he was raised.
The Daughter-in-Law, however, went unstaged until a 1967 Royal Court production. In its dedication to realism, its attention to working-class issues, and its relative sexual frankness, the play bears a good deal of resemblance to John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, which the Royal Court had premiered the prior decade. In other words, The Daughter-in-Law has always been something of an object of nostalgia, a simple and effective drama that evokes the early years of a major novelist and the heydey of kitchen sink realism. In the Mint Theater Company, which is dedicated to finding “worthwhile plays from the past that have been lost or forgotten,” it may have found its ideal producers.
Luther Gascoyne (Tom Coiner) is an uncouth but affable collier whose marriage seems to have stalled before it began. His wife, Minnie (Amy Blackman), is displeased with both his manners and his complacency. Matters do not improve when Luther hears that his former lover gave birth to a child and that he must pay her forty pounds to leave in silence.
Under the direction of Martin Platt, The Daughter-in-Law finds sympathy for all its characters. None of them are bad people; they’re just the victims of one or two bad decisions. The actors are strong, their dialects (Amy Stoller) clear and consistent. Nevertheless, you will likely appreciate the glossary in the program, unless you already know what “too much chelp an’ chunter” means (I didn’t).
By 1967, The Daughter-in-Law was old-fashioned, even among Lawrence’s own work, and the same is true today. And yet there can be charm in old fashions, and Platt has mounted a cozy production well worth your Sunday afternoon.
The Daughter-in-Law runs through March 20th at the New York City Center Stage II. 131 W. 55th Street New York, NY. 2 hours 20 minutes. One intermission. Photograph by Maria Baranova.