|Photo by Joan Marcus. Terence Rattigan’s “The Winslow Boy” at Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines Theatre, clsoing December 1st. Charlotte Parry as Kate Winslow with Zachary Booth as Dickie Winslow.
There are playwrights who have been forgotten and then there are those who have been neglected at our peril. Terence Rattigan was a popular writer before new voices of malcontent and unrest appeared on the scene. The oft-called “angry young men” were eager to break new theatrical ground and fight new universalist battles. Rattigan was a master of old-fashioned dramaturgy, whose subjects were often also universalist battles.
In “The Winslow Boy,” certainly, based on an actual case, Rattigan resonates with ideas of personal freedom and the right to vindicate ourselves against untrue allegations by those in positions of power. “The Winslow Boy” transcends the drawing room in which it is so gracefully set by Peter McKintosh to attack issues of due process and inalienable rights.
“The Winslow Boy” harkens to quaint ideas about parental approval and filial obligations. It takes place around 1912, before the “great war,” when women’s suffrage, Kate Winslow’s (the wonderful and winsome Charlotte Parry) raison d’etre, is considered a lost cause. Sir Robert Morton (a superbly cool Alessandro Nivola), the advocate Arthur Winslow (the marvelous Roger Rees) hires to defend his son, Ronnie (a lovely Broadway newcomer Spencer Davis Milford) against allegations of theft speaks to the difference of what is right and what is just. Sir Robert dedicates himself to the cause of “The Winslow Boy” in the interests of the former. That, too, may seem a bit quaint.
Yet it is very much still a timely question of whether the powerful can attempt to impose their version of the truth with impunity if the rest of us do not abrogate our right to fight against it.
Arthur Winslow is a highly practical man. Yet he sacrifices his family’s security for the sake of what is right. If Ronnie– “The Winslow Boy”– has been falsely accused by the Admiralty, then his name should be cleared.”The Winslow Boy” himself stands at the center of the fuss as disinterested as he is innocent. He is, as his brother Dickie (Zachary Booth) puts it, and ordinary boy, who “sometimes doesn’t wash.” Ronnie is oblivious of the concerns of his family or the troubles they are undertaking on his behalf.
Charlotte Parry, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and
Spencer Davis Milford. Photo by Joan Marcus.
The charm of the writing in “The Winslow Boy,” articulated by the actors with equal charm gives the “tempest in a teapot” story broader reach. “The Winslow Boy” is at once humanistic and realistic about its subject. It dares to question our reactions while pointing us to the broader picture.
Under the excellent direction of Lindsay Posner, there are some wonderful performances from the large cast in this production: Michael Cumpsty is peerless as the hapless Desmond Curry; Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is superb as the patiently suffering wife and mother, Grace Winslow. Henny Russell is etouchingly amusing as the Winslows’ loyal, inept and untrained parlor maid, Violet. Chandler Williams gives a fine portrayal as Kate’s exasperated fiance, John Watherstone; he also cuts a nifty military figure in his resplendent uniform (also courtesy of Mr. McKintosh’s design.) Rounding out the ensemble are Meredith Florenza in a small but meaty role as a reporter, Miss Barnes, interested only in the women’s point of view on the case; and Stephen Pilkington as her associate, the photographer Fred.
To find out more about this production of “The Winslow Boy,” which plays at the American Airlines Theatre through December 1, please visit Roundabout Theatre Company.