Review: PAPER CUT

Callum Mardy as Kyle in PAPER CUT at Park Theatre. Photo courtesy Park Theatre website.

IN BRIEF: Complex, harrowing war drama highlighting unseen costs of war is strongly acted and compassionately written.

Returning servicemen finding the world – and themselves – changed irrevocably has been a topic for drama for over a century, from fascinating films including The Lost Squadron in 1932, The Best Years of Our Lives in 1946 and Coming Home in 1978 to stage plays, the latest of which is Andrew Rosendorf’s PAPER CUT, which finally has a London run at Park Theatre’s 90 space, after its original run at Theatre503 was cruelly cancelled by Covid’s debut in March 2020.

Paper Cut is an engrossing exploration of what drives American men into the military and the devastating, unforeseen price they often pay in their search for belonging.

The focus of the play is Kyle, an American army sergeant fighting the war in Afghanistan. Kyle is a sergeant who is admired by his men, so when he is devastatingly injured by an IED, one of his subordinates, Chuck, saves him. There are many layers behind Chuck’s actions, not least because of the close personal relationship he has with Kyle. Kyle and Chuck are gay, and the military is not a welcoming place for gay people. Discharged and sent home, Kyle’s biggest war is now the one raging inside him.

Heavily-drugged, memory-impaired Kyle has a bigger fight on his hands as he returns to a country which respects the idea of servicemen but doesn’t understand them and their trauma, or adequately support them, bitterly explored when Kyle attempts dating online and gets a quick rejection when revealing himself to his prospective date. The end of his military career and its “belonging”, his unresolved identity issues, phantom pain in his absent foot, the flashbacks, the unaddressed PTSD ramifications – all these factors conspire to create the new war which rages inside Kyle’s head.

The play centres around three of Kyle’s relationships; with his brother Jack, with his lover/comrade Chuck and with an online hookup, Harry – all of which he attempts to “cut off” to help him manage his feelings, but two out of three survive.

Kyle’s tortured relationship with his gay brother, his only “family”, fractured by Kyle outing him to the family some years earlier is fraught with anger, guilt and blame. As nurse Jack is gradually allowed to become part of Kyle’s support system the two navigate towards a better understanding of what they have in common.

Kyle finally comes to some sort of terms with his gayness and his feelings for Chuck, and the closing of the play offers at least some hope that the two men, both changed by horrific wartime experiences, may help and support each other in each other’s recovery and survival, to find their own way of belonging in a way that celebrates rather than suffocates.

A compassionate, ambitious and complex play, it has a lot to say and prompts many interesting questions, which its limited length does not have time to explore. The actors make the most of their opportunities. Callum Mardy as Kyle gives a volatile, insightful performance of vulnerability and courage as he attempts to come to terms with the physical and emotional damage wreaked upon him. Joe Bolland as Jack effectively embodies the caring nature of brother Jack shot through with the pain of their shared history and unresolved issues. Prince Kundai as Chuck was a little difficult to follow for the first ten minutes of the play, it was hard to get an ear on his accent and it was a struggle to understand him, however, this resolved itself after some time and he had some effective moments later in the play. With fewer opportunities, Tobie Donovan as disconnected and uncomprehending “date” Harry did what he could with the character material he was given.

Set, lighting and sound designs were stark and serviceable. Staging and direction by Scott Hurran were sympathetic and sensitive to the needs of the actors and the script.
For many men whose family history is in the military, their enlistment seems a given – a way to belong to something in ways that their lives may not have offered opportunities otherwise. But PAPER CUT is a valuable window into this insular and unreal world, exposing “the sacrifices you make without realising you’ll be making them” (as Chuck says), the most important being the avoidance of understanding themselves by sacrificing their sense of self for a false sense of belonging, on someone else’s terms, submerging themselves in an unquestioning and inflexible structure.

How can one come to terms with idea that a comrade can also be a threat, a friend (or even lover) also an enemy? This seductive idea of finding belonging in the military which denies your existence or your right to be yourself is the unending war that armies wage upon their own soldiers. PAPER CUT is a helpful and compassionate addition to the many vital conversations around identity, humanity and social responsibility.

PAPER CUT runs at Park Theatre to July 1st. Details and tickets here


Mint Theatre streams forgotten Lillian Hellman play

The ever-generous Mint Theatre is now streaming another of their successful revivals, this time of Lillian Hellman’s largely-forgotten second play, DAYS TO COME.

DAYS TO COME is a family drama set against the backdrop of labour problems and workers’ unrest in a small Ohio town which threatens to tear apart both town and family. “It’s the story of innocent people on both sides who are drawn into conflict and events far beyond their comprehension,” Hellman said in an interview before DAYS TO COME opened in 1936. “It’s the saga of a man who started something he cannot stop…”

“It’s a gripping, lucid examination of the dangerous intersection of economic, social, and personal forces.” said The New Yorker

Andrew Rodman is running the family business and failing at it. The workers are out on strike and things are getting desperate. “Papa would have known what to do,” his sister Cora nags, “and without wasting time and money.” But it’s too late, Rodman is bringing in strikebreakers, naively failing to anticipate the disastrous impact that this will have on his family and their place in the community where they have lived for generations.

Audiences had no chance to appreciate DAYS TO COME when it premiered on Broadway in 1936; it closed after a week. Hellman blamed herself for the play’s failure. “I wanted to say too much,” she wrote in a preface to the published play in 1942—while admitting that her director was confused and her cast inadequate. “On the opening night the actors moved as figures in the dream of a frightened child. It was my fault, I suppose, that it happened.” Nevertheless, “I stand firmly on the side of Days to Come.” In 1942, Hellman could afford to take responsibility for the play’s failure; she had enjoyed much success in the days after DAYS TO COME (with both THE LITTLE FOXES and WATCH ON THE RHINE). But Hellman’s play is better than she would admit.

“Days to Come … turns out to be a gripping piece of storytelling, one whose failure and subsequent obscurity make no sense at all.” The Wall Street Journal

DAYS TO COME was revived only once in New York, in 1978, by the WPA Theatre. In reviewing that production for The Nation, Harold Clurman wrote that “our knowledge of what Hellman would subsequently write reveals that Days to Come is not mainly concerned with the industrial warfare which is the ‘stuff’ of her story for the first two acts.” Hellman’s real preoccupation is “the lack of genuine values of mind or spirit” of her principle characters, the factory-owning Rodmans.

Mint Theatre’s production, running 1 hour 50 minutes, can be seen online until April 2nd. Find it here


MINT theatre streams another rediscovered classic

New York-based MINT Theatre company are generously making available to the public past productions around the world for free.

Streaming globally until March 19th is the 1931 play PHILIP GOES FORTH by Pulitzer Prize-winner George Kelly.

PHILIP GOES FORTH tells the story of a young man who rebels against his father and a career in the family business and ventures to New York to write plays. He leaves home without his father’s support or blessing, but with this warning: “Don’t imagine, whenever you get tired floating around up there in the clouds that you can drop right back into your place down here;—that isn’t the way things go—”

George Kelly was a celebrated author in the 1920s, the man who wrote the 1925 psychological drama CRAIG’S WIFE, centered around an obsessive, destructive housewife, which earned him a Pulitzer Prize. By this time, notes Foster Hirsch, “a new play (by Kelly) was as keenly anticipated as a new one by Eugene O’Neill.”

PHILIP GOES FORTH made its debut at the Biltmore Theater on Broadway in January of 1931. George Kelly’s comedy has some discouraging words for its title character—and this rubbed a few critics the wrong way. The Times’ Brooks Atkinson was especially disgruntled. “To discourage the neophytes about coming to New York and trying their fortune with the arts is to accept considerable responsibility,” Atkinson proclaimed, while missing the point of the play. Kelly was so disappointed by the lack of critical perception that he gave up writing for the theatre for the next five years.

MINT Theatre’s 2013 production—the play’s first in 82 years—finally garnered the play the critical perception it deserved.

You can find out more about the play, and stream it until March 19th, here


Watch Mint Theatre’s THE NEW MORALITY free online until December 4th!

New York’s Mint Theater Company are generously offering free worldwide streaming of one of their rediscovered plays from the early 20th century, THE NEW MORALITY by Harold Chapin.

Set aboard a houseboat on a fashionable reach of the Thames in 1911, THE NEW MORALITY tells the story of how the brazen Betty Jones restores dignity to her household and harmony to her marriage, by losing her temper and making a scene.

A rising star of the theatre, Brooklyn-born British playwright Harold Chapin had numerous one-acts and three full-length plays produced before he was killed on the battlefield in 1915 at the age of 29. “When Harold Chapin fell in France the modern British theatre lost a comic writer of high order,” declared the Sunday Times. “For intellectual foolery his New Morality has no equal in present-day work.” The play was produced five years after his death to great acclaim, and then languished in obscurity for decades until Mint’s “lavishly crafted” (Theatermania) revival introduced New York theatergoers to Chapin’s “unabashed comedy with bite.” (The New Yorker)

“The Mint’s eminently satisfying production of The New Morality may spur renewed interest in Chapin’s output and cause us to wonder what else he might have achieved had his life not been cut short before his 30th birthday,” wrote Talkin’ Broadway. “The script combines a jigger or two of Harley Granville Barker, a measure of Shaw, a dash of Wilde and stirs as needed,” remarked The New York Times. “The writing is charming and finely observed…The direction, by the Mint’s artistic director, Jonathan Bank, is appealing and apposite. The acting is adept, with particularly impressive turns by Brenda Meaney as Betty and Ned Noyes as the husband of her putative rival.”

Directed by Jonathan Bank, Mint’s THE NEW MORALITY was recorded when it ran in New York in 2015. And now, you can see the play until December 4th online. It runs just over 90 minutes and is presented in its original three act structure.

For more information about author Harold Chapin, and to watch the show, click here


Mint Theatre streams free a rediscovered play by Miles Malleson

Miles Malleson, photo credit unknown

If he is remembered at all today, Miles Malleson would be best remembered for the numerous film and theatre roles in which he seemed to perpetually play dithering vicars or absent-minded petty officials in British comedy films from the 1930s to the 1960s. His charming expressions of befuddled Britishness made him a much-loved (and often working) actor.

But what is less remembered about the man that he was also a produced writer and translator of plays, particularly of those by Moliere. He also adapted for the stage works including short stories by Tolstoy and Chekhov. In the thirties and forties Malleson also contributed to many film screenplays, some of which he had small acting parts in.

After his death in 1969, his work became increasingly forgotten, especially as a writer. Until Mint Theater came across his work, over forty years later.

Mint Theater Company is a company based in New York, established in 1992, which stages rediscoveries of unjustly-forgotten works. One could could think of Mint as the American equivalent of London’s mighty Finborough Theatre in its work to revive plays worth seeing again.

Mint Theatre staged Malleson’s YOURS UNFAITHFULLY (1933) in 2016/7 to much acclaim, and followed this with staging his play CONFLICT (1925) in 2018.

CONFLICT is now available on demand until July 10 for free in the USA and UK. Please check for availability in other countries.

The recorded play lasts for 1 hour 52 minutes.

Directed by Jenn Thompson, the play follows Lady Dare Bellingdon, who craves something more. Unwilling to commit to Sir Major Ronald Clive, a Conservative standing for Parliament whose values don’t extend to his sexual relationship with Bellingdon, she ends up caught between Clive and his political opponent, the passionate and crusading Tom Smith in the work set in 1920s London. The play features two of Malleson’s favourite subjects for drama, sex and politics.

Recorded live in June 2018, with a three-camera HD setup, the production features Jessie Shelton as Lady Dare Bellingdon, Jeremy Beck as Tom Smith, and Henry Clarke as Sir Major Ronald Clive.

“We know there are many theatre lovers out there who are not in New York or are not ready to attend live performances, so we’re happy to share this wonderful production, which shares a director, set designer, and two actors with our current production of Chains by Elizabeth Baker,” says Mint Production Artistic Director Jonathan Bank. “Our national streaming audience was vitally important to us in 2020 and 2021 and we won’t abandon them now that we’re back to producing live performances.”

To watch CONFLICT and find out more, click here

“AN IMMACULATELY WELL-MADE, COMPREHENSIVELY SATISFYING PIECE OF THEATER, OLD-FASHIONED IN STYLE WITHOUT FEELING AT ALL DATED, AND THE MINT’S PRODUCTION, DIRECTED BY JENN THOMPSON AND FEATURING AN ENSEMBLE CAST OF SUPREME MERIT, IS BEYOND PRAISE.” – Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal