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Theatre Review by James Wilson - October 19, 2023

Sara Haider and Joshua Echebiri
Photo by Todd Cerveris
Last year, New York's invaluable Mint Theater Company presented Chains, Elizabeth Baker's trenchant drama from 1909 about the apparent impossibility of having both a happy marriage and a fulfilling personal life. Mint continues its mission to rescue Baker from theatrical oblivion with its production of Partnership, a comedy that had its London premiere in 1917 and which explores similar themes introduced in the former play. (The company produced a third Baker play, The Price of Thomas Scott, in 2019.) Partnership does not exhibit the lacerating social critique of Chains, but its examination of balancing work with leisure remains as relevant as ever.

The comedy revolves around Kate Rolling (Sara Haider), the owner of a high-end fashion shop in Brighton. Rolling (as she is referred to by her associates) manages the boutique with a no-nonsense precision, and with a flick of her wrists or a cock of her head, she can send her assistants, including the simpering shopgirl Miss Gladys Tracey (Madeline Seidman, who is appropriately sappy and sentimental), scurrying. Dressmaker Miss Blagg (in a terrific and wry performance by Gina Daniels) and associate Maisie Glow (Olivia Gilliatt, a standout as a scheming and cynical social climber) are also crucial to the business in order to cater to and ingratiate themselves with upper-class customers like the snooty Lady Smith-Carr-Smith (Christiane Noll, who is delightful but, sadly, appears in just two scenes).

Rolling's business prospects look even brighter when a neighboring shop owner, George Pillat (Gene Gillette), makes an intriguing proposition. Pillat has made an offer on the store between his and Rolling's, and he suggests they go into a partnership that would allow them to expand their respective establishments. Additionally, the contractual partnership would include marriage even though neither has romantic feelings for each other. Both their personal and professional relationships, therefore, would be strictly business.

The contract is all but signed until Rolling spends an afternoon with Pillat's old school friend, the shy and reserved Lawrence Fawcett (Joshua Echebiri). Fawcett is the antithesis of the driven capitalists. He spends as much time as he can hiking, luxuriating in nature, and taking mid-afternoon boat rides. His philosophy is "You begin to realize then that life is more than a bank balance. You know; it's extraordinary what you can do without the things that money will buy."

Fawcett causes Rolling to reconsider her own priorities in life, and she even has some sympathy for the lovesick Tracey, who has been in an on-again, off-again relationship with one of Pillat's workers (sweetly played by Tom Patterson, who also doubles as an unctuous cad in the production). "Partnership" begins to take on new meanings as Rolling immerses herself in Fawcett's lifestyle, and she is confronted with having to make a life-altering choice and select either a business or intimate partner.

As is probably clear from the brief summary, Rolling's final decision will not come as much of a surprise. Consequently, the three-act play certainly has its longueurs, but many of the performances, particularly by Haider as the heroine, who seems to have been transplanted from a play by George Bernard Shaw, make the visit worthwhile. Under Jackson Grace Gay's direction, Haider exquisitely shows the transformation of a hardened businesswoman to a flighty romantic. She is well matched with Gillette, who plays Pillat as a buttoned-up, meticulously controlled entrepreneur, who wears a suit and tie as if it were a second skin. Unfortunately, Echebiri's Fawcett lacks the requisite charm and insouciance that would make a highly successful industrialist want to throw it all away. As a romantic comedy, this Partnership is regrettably a one-sided affair.

Whatever the drawbacks, the production benefits from outstanding design elements. The sets (especially the work room in Rolling's boutique) by Alexander Woodward, period costumes by Kindall Almond, and summery lighting by Mary Louis Geiger contribute to the early-nineteenth-century ambiance. The fashions and antiquated references may point to a different time and place, but the issues are pertinent to modern audiences.

Through November 12, 2023
Mint Theater Company
Theatre Row, Theatre Four 410 West 42nd St. Tickets online and current performance schedule: