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'The Breadwinner' a fine revival of 1931 Somerset Maugham play

Comic satire of wealthy stockbroker who rebels against spoiled wife and kids

Published August 2005

By Lucy Komisar


The Breadwinner
Written by W. Somerset Maugham
Directed by Carl Forsman

The Connelly Theater
220 East 4th St.

This 1931 satire by Somerset Maugham is as fresh and pertinent as the day it hit the London stage. His comic but subtly biting drama about marriage and families must have shocked audiences at the time.

Four spoiled rich kids, all in tennis whites, muse about how they'd like to spend their parents' money as well as how boring and unnecessary their folks are. Shouldn't they be put away some place, in some country cottage with a few hundred pounds a year, after they've shifted their wealth to their heirs?

The castThe cast
Photos by Theresa Squire

Meanwhile, the wives – who are sisters – are bored with their husbands and plot how they can maneuver them into financing a summer for women and kids on the Riviera. The men would slog along in their jobs as stockbroker and solicitor. The wives, by the way, are sure that the kids and husbands dote on them. And they agree that the role of husbands is to provide: "It's in self-sacrifice that a man fulfills himself."

Well, imagine everyone's surprise when the plodding old "breadwinner," Charles (Jack Gilpin), announces his view of their family values, including what he thinks of his wife of 19 years and his son and daughter.

The play, which takes place in upper-class Hampstead, reflects on the decade after World War I, when men who had faced battlefield horrors returned to what seemed to many to be meaningless lives. It skewers the trap of "family responsibility" interpreted through a philosophy of consumerism, which forced the breadwinners into what they recognized as lives of boredom and drudgery, even at the level of the upper middle class.

Jack Gilpin, rightJack Gilpin, right

Charles, the stockbroker hero of Maugham's story, has nothing to say to his snooty, empty-headed upper-class son Patrick (Joe Delafield), who thinks everything is coming to him, even, ironically, a Labor seat in parliament. He also reassesses a marriage that has become a charade that hides the fact that each partner thinks the other a bore.

The action takes place in designer Nathan Heverin's upper-class drawing room with faux marble columns and three large arched windows looking onto the garden.

Carl Forsman, artistic director of the Keen Company, which won a special Drama Desk award for excellence last season, has mounted a first-rate production that would grace any stage. He provides the requisite tongue-in-cheek comic veneer used perhaps at the time to sugarcoat the play's socially radical argument. Forsman's reputation has won him a stellar cast, including some Broadway veterans.

Joe Delafield (in the Roundabout's "Tartuffe") is appropriately arrogant and preening as the egocentric twit who shrinks in horror when his father suggests that this self-styled future Labor MP become a member of the working class and get to know the proletarians from the inside.

The castThe cast

Jennifer Van Dyck (in "Hedda Gabler" on Broadway, "Orson's Shadow" Off Broadway) is a comic delight as flighty, intense, charmingly manipulative sister-in-law Dorothy; a high spot is the over-the-top scene where she declaims about the hidden love she bears.

Alicia Roper ("The Dance of Death" on Broadway) is excellent as a rueful Margery, who works herself into massive self-pity and descends into absurdity as she declares how she has brought beauty into Charles' life – Armenian folk songs, for example.

Gilpin (The Elephant Man on Broadway) is a rock-solid Charles, though sometimes he seems to announce his feelings rather than portray them.

Robert Emmet Lunney ("The Graduate," "Democracy," "A Doll's House" on Broadway) seems to carry an inner sadness as the trying-too-hard father, Alfred, who wants to be pals with his kids and doesn't really connect to anyone, including wife Dorothy.

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