The Mint Theater team somehow seems to find perfect shows for our time by scrounging around old and forgotten pieces of theater. Conflict is no exception, in fact, it might be one of the Mint’s best shows. Even with the Mint’s transformative eye to detail and period, it doesn’t take long for Conflict to register with our current political situation.
Conflict is a love story layered onto a discussion about politics and class (this is a British play, after all), all of this played out during an election. The handsome young Conservative in this soon to be triangle is Major Sir Ronald Clive (Henry Clarke). The young woman who is the object of his affections is Lady Dare (Jessie Shelton). The Labour candidate is an old friend of Clive’s, Tom Smith (Jeremy Beck).
|Jeremy Beck, Jessie Shelton and Henry Clarke|
The story starts with Clive and Dare coming from an evening out at that woozy hour where the edge of night transforms into morning. Sparkling conversation and flirtation ensues, but their manner and interaction indicate the fizz has been drained from their relationship. Dare goes to bed as her father, Lord Bellingdon (Graeme Malcolm) enters. Lord Bellingdon and Clive find a man lurking on the grounds and capture young Tom Smith. But it turns out Tom Smith is no theif, but an old chum of Clive’s from Cambridge, albeit fallen on hard times.
Moving forward a year, an election comes up and Clive stands as the Conservative candidate and, a rehabilitated Tom,s tands as the Labour candidate. Lady Dare is fascinated, first by Tom, then by the ideas he has about politics, then by Tom again.
What makes Conflict rather brilliant is the way that the discussion about politics is front and center, but not central to the story. Both men are sure they are right, but they are willing to listen to one another. They are moved by a sense of duty and civility to participate in politics. Similarly, both men care passionately about Lady Dare, but are willing to listen to her.
Here, Lord Bellingdon is, unfortunately, the embodiment of the status quo just as the young voters (not seen but referenced) are the embodiment of struggle. His stand for convention against the future is the unmovable object which is thwarted by Lady Dare’s unstoppable train.
Conflict is also the story of physical and emotional love that was probably quite daring in 1925, and would still be in many parts of the country. In the country so recently wrapped in Victorian morals, change in the social rules occurs at a blistering pace.
All four major actors are moving and impressive in their performances. If Jeremy Beck and Jessie Shelton stand out, it is because it is their story of transformation and honesty.
Directed with a light touch by Jenn Thompson, Conflict was written by Miles Malleson who also wrote Unfaithfully Yours, recently done by the Mint. The audience at the Mint Theater often skews older, which is a shame. Young theater goers are missing out on an excellent and timely play. Conflict is proof that ideas, principals and entertainment can age and become even more relevant.
Director: Jenn Thompson | Playwright: Miles Malleson
Cast: Jeremy Beck, Henry Clarke, Graeme Malcolm, James Pendergast, Jessie Shelton, Jasmin Walker, Amelia White