Posted in A Picture of Autumn, ancestral home, comedy, down and out nobility, drama, England's Chekhov, family comedy drama, George Morfogen, memories, N.C. Hunter, theater

Home is where the heart is

Home is also where habits are respected and remembered, and memories treasured.

Jonathan Hogan as Sir Charles Denham and George Morfogen as his brother Harry in N.C.  Hunter’s “A Picture of Autumn,” in a Mint Theater Company revival. Photo by Richard Termine.

In N.C. Hunter’s “A Picture of Autumn,” revived to perfection by the Mint Theater Company and on stage through July 27th, the ancestral home is a bit of a decaying pile. In 1951, “A Picture of Autumn” was produced in England as the first in a series of gentle drawing room comedies.

Jill Tanner as Lady Margaret, George Morfogen as Harry Denham, Jonathan Hogan as Sir Charles, Paul Niebanck as Robert and Katie Firth as his wife, Elizabeth. Photo by Richard Termine.

Despite the inevitable comparison to Chekhov, Hunter brought a crisp and distinct voice. His failure to gain traction as a great English playwright may be attributed to the voices of discontent made popular by John Osborne’s “angry young men” and Joe Orton’s strange and flamboyant characters. The drawing room was replaced by the union hall, the dockside, or other more ordinary venues. The realism of the 1970s wanted a grittier reality than that of aging nobility and its bewildered children.

Paul Niebanck as Robert Denham and Barbara eda-Young as Nurse in “A Picture of Autumn.”
Photo by Richard Termine.

As in Chekhov’s works, “A Picture of Autumn” focuses on the decline of an aristocratic family, the Denhams. Sir Charles (Jonathan Hogan) and Lady Margaret (Jill Tanner) make up the household along with Charles’ brother Harry (George Morfogen) and the equally aged Nurse (Barbara Eda-Young) who is more served than servant. Sir Charles and Lady Margaret have two boys, the ne’er do well Frank (Christian Coulson) and his decent but plodding civil servant brother Robert (Paul Niebanck). Robert is appalled by the letters of complaint he’s gotten from his mother during his service in Africa. Moved by his parents’ inability to keep up the old house, has decided to help by selling Winton Manor to a governnemt agency.

George Morfogen as Harry and Helen Cespedes as Felicity in a scene from “A Picture of Autumn.
Photo by Richard Termine.

Hunter was never much produced state-side, with his only Broadway foray being A Day by the Sea featuring Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn in 1955. He fared better in England where the plight of impoverished lords and ladies dotting the post WWII country-side was better understood.

Be grateful to the Mint for bringing Hunter’s work the attention it deserves. “A Picture of Autumn” gets truly proper treatment under Gus Kaikkonen’s fine direction and with this wonderful ensemble. The performers were all top-notch, with George Morfogen adding sparkle to the production. The young Helen Cespedes as Felicity, the daughter of Robert Denham’s wife’s Elizabeth is a welcome new talent and makes a superb ingenue. Jill Tanner is wonderful as the doyenne reduced to cooking and shopping; her Margaret is a perfect unwilling  but loving caretaker.

For more information about “A Picture of Autumn,” please visit http://minttheater.org/.