By Special Arrangement with Dramatists Play Service
T. Schreiber Studio
A TASTE OF HONEY
By SHELAGH DELANEY
T. Schreiber Studio,151 W. 26 St., NYC, November 11 – December 5, 2004
Directed by PETER JENSEN
Set Design RYAN SCOTT
Costume Design ASTRID BRUCKER
Lighting Design PETER HOERBURGER
Stage Manager DANIEL ROBBINS
Press Representative SCOTTI RHODES
Helen – Maybeth Ryan
Josephine – Jamie Neumann
Peter – David Hutson
The Boy – Sylvester Bush
Geoffrey – Patrick Smullen
Shelagh Delaney’s A TASTE OF HONEY is one of those dark, British working class plays that explore the humorless, perhaps even pointless lives of its characters. Set in 1958 Lancashire, the piece translates well to 2004 NYC, even if the relative inactivity of the plot draws in the audience in short, measured doses.
As I am sure every reviewer points out, one of the most striking aspects of A TASTE OF HONEY is that the playwright was just nineteen when the drama debuted on the London stage in 1958. This is an element worth noting, as Ms. Delaney’s plot, one that feels trite initially, includes some twists that are unique for both her youth and the era.
We meet Helen and Josephine. They are mother and daughter, and the core of A TASTE OF HONEY. Helen is a trollop, for lack of a prettier word, and Josephine is a jaded, angry seventeen-year-old. The two have just moved into a room in an industrial and dank neighborhood. It is apparent rather quickly that not only shuffling from one squalid place to another is commonplace, but also that Helen abandoning Josephine for the arms of a man is just as routine an event. Here lies the heart of the conflict.
Enter Peter, the latest man to unseat domestic quietude and distract motherly love. He and Helen wed, leaving Jo on her own. These are the aforementioned "trite" details. What follows are the elements that could have fallen into the same trap, but did not, and so elevate A TASTE OF HONEY to a different level. Josephine seeks solace when her mother departs. Enter The Boy, a sailor who proposes to Josephine, and with whom she finds comfort during yet another Christmas spent alone. He is black. She is white. Enter Spring, and a new pal called Geoffrey to keep Jo company. She is pregnant by her sailor, and her new roommate is gay. Not quite what one expects from the era.
What I did count on was Helen’s venom, and I seem to have only gotten a half serving. I did imagine she was envisioned as a rather more vicious and off-putting entity. Here, she’s more pathetic and mouthy than viscerally hurtful. Within the confines of the world that Ms. Delaney has chosen to expose to the world in A TASTE OF HONEY there is much unspecified rage. Things are as they are, and folks speak their minds, or say nothing at all. To that end, the actors are on target, even when I laid prepared for something more. Following that vein, the production elements fall in place. The set for A TASTE OF HONEY is appropriately depressing, the costuming fine, the direction steady and well-paced, and the musical interludes the ideal antidote to distracting scene changes.
In sum, I would have to say that I recommend a journey to the land of Shelagh Delaney’s A TASTE OF HONEY. I was glad to have experienced this impressive play off the page. I think you will be as well.
- Kessa De Santis -