The revival of Miles Malleson’s Conflict – A Love Story, being performed by the delicious Mint Theater Company, is well acted, gorgeous to look at, and speaks volumes. Right now, the theme in theatre seems to be privilege vs. the common man, but ironically, Conflict – A Love Story, which was written in 1925, could have been written today. Malleson was ahead of his time infusing social justice, personal freedoms, and modern attitudes towards sex and marriage into his work. The Mint did a wonderful revival of his play Yours Unfaithfully back in 2016.
The play starts as Lady Dare Bellingdon (Jessie Shelton, NYTW’s Hadestown) and Major Sir Ronald Clive, D.S.O (Henry Clarke) have returned home from a date. Ronald wants to wed Lady Dare, but she is only interested in “dancing”. Ronald, like her father, is a Tory, or in this day and age a Conservative. Lady Dare has repeatedly refused to marry him, as she rebels in her own way against the conventional plans for her and women of her time. Earlier in the evening, he saw this man near his car. Lord Bellingdon (Graeme Malcolm) wakes up hearing the commotion. Dare is sent upstairs to bed as the men wait drinking expensive brandy waiting to catch the intruder. The two have become friends and Lord Bellingdon is backing him for Parliament. As they converse, in walks a desperate and down on his luck Tom Smith (Jeremy Beck). It seems Tom went to school with Ronald and needs his help. Once more privileged than Ronald, thanks to a stroke of bad luck Tom is now broke and is now one of the less fortunate. Offended by their lack of gentlemanly welcome and learning how the other half lives, Tom now wants to change his circumstances but needs backing. Ronald gives in, giving Tom help, but that is where the conflict begins. Tom returns wanting more.
A year and a half later, Tom arrives back, this time by the door. He’s there not to pay back his benefactors but tell them he’s using the money they gave him to run against Ronald on the Labor ticket. Lady Dare meets Tom this time and falls for his passionate resilience. She has been feeling guilty about her status and privilege. She also wants freedom from her father, her suitor, and her best friend, Mrs. Tremayne (Jasmin Walker, Broadway/New World Stage’s Avenue Q), who she now sees as overly mannered with a lack of empathy.
Mint Theatre regular, Jeremy Beck’s performance is a standout as he goes from down and out to resilient. He holds the power in this play from his first entrance. Jessie Shelton matches Beck with her fighting spirit and resolve. Henry Clarke is solid as the stuck-in-his-ways Ronald and Graeme Malcolm is to the manor born. Jasmin Walker, James Prendergast as the butler, and Amelia White show that no part is too small.
Jenn Thompson’s direction makes this feel like Downton Abby. She understands the meter and the cadence this type of period piece needs to seem as contemporary as it does.
From the moment you walk into the theatre, you admire John McDermott’s sets. The subtle warm lighting by Mary Louise Geiger, sound design by Toby Algya, and the perfectly period designed costumes by Martha Hally all add to this wonderful time in the theatre.
Conflict is compelling, relevant, thought-provoking, and perfect for the theatre of today.
Conflict-A Love Story: Mint Theatre Company, The Beckett Theatre, 410 West 42ndSt. through July 31st.