October 13, 2005
Theater: Lowell theater opens with a winner of a satire
Breadwinner the story of family and money, and the trouble the
ungrateful offspring who can’t wait to inherit their family fortune —
sound familiar? Well, it’s not 2005, and the greedy children in question
aren’t the Hilton sisters. This is the beginning of W. Somerset
Maugham’s play, The Breadwinner, written in 1930. Maugham, a novelist
and dramatist, wrote more than 30 plays between 1897 and 1963, often
with themes of social class and the struggles of mankind to make
personal choices that didn’t always follow the norm. Both these themes
are brilliantly explored in The Breadwinner.
The play opens with
Patrick and Judy, brother and sister who are spending the holiday from
their tony prep schools at home in the suburbs of London (or, as they
call it, “the back woods.”) They are soon joined by their cousins, Diana
and Timothy, also privileged brats who join in the bitch session about
how they are in the prime of their lives and should not be financially
dependent upon their parents — instead, their parents should just hand
over the fortune now and let them spend it while they’re still young
enough to enjoy themselves.
On the heels of this
conversation (in which Patrick asserts that everyone should be
euthanised upon turning 40, since their usefulness on the planet has run
out), the children and their mother, Margery (who privately laments that
her husband is a bore, but at least he brings home a hefty paycheck)
learn through a family friend, Alfred, that patriarch Charles has come
into some serious financial trouble.
At first, the family
is in hysterics, thinking that their father has gone off somewhere to
quietly commit suicide rather than face them with the fact that he is
penniless. They seem to be more devastated at the thought of not
vacationing on the Riviera this year than the idea of their father’s
investigation, Alfred discovers that Charles was able to procure a
sizeable loan from a business partner, allowing him to cover his margin
on the stock market and giving him the chance to earn another fortune.
Everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief when in walks a calm and quiet
Charles. He matter-of-factly reports that he didn’t cash the check given
to him by the business partner, and has been “hammered” out of the stock
exchange. To put it succinctly, he’s broke, out of a job and has no
options. Which is exactly what he wants.
with little fanfare, that he is packing up a few belongings and leaving
his wife and children for good. He will give them his remaining 15,000
pounds to live on, but he’s out of there. He’s tired of busting his
posterior day in and day out, never taking a vacation, never developing
his own interests, all for the cause of bringing home the bacon to a
pack of ingrates who don’t even like him, never mind appreciate him.
Son Patrick is
appalled. How can his father leave his wife and children? After all, his
father’s life would be meaningless without the children, right?
Charles. In fact, he finds his children tedious and his wife boring to
the point of extinction. He says he was prepared to walk back into the
stock exchange and take up his life again, but then he had an epiphany
that it wasn’t worth it. So now, he’s going to chuck it all, and start
The second act of
the play centers more around each character’s reaction to Charles’
decision. His wife, Margery, claims to be heartbroken; she says she
loves her husband deeply and can’t live without him. His best friend,
Alfred, is certain there’s another woman at the root of the problem,
while Alfred’s wife, Dorothy, is sure that Charles is madly in love with
her and is giving her a signal that he wants her to chuck it all, too,
and run away with him. Alfred and Dorothy’s daughter, Diana, confesses
her secret crush on Charles and begs him to take her away with him.
Charles dismisses all of them, intent on packing a few things and
have vastly different reactions to the news. While son Patrick copes by
locking himself in his room, eating butterscotch and sulking, Judy has a
heart-to-heart with her father, telling him that she understands why
he’s making his decision and wishes him well. You see, Judy feels
trapped by their station in life, too — doomed to a life of boring
cocktail parties and being forced into marriage. She longs to be an
actress, but knows that her mother and their friends would never
approve. For the first time in their lives, father and daughter connect.
What is charming and
thought-provoking about this comedy is that, even though it was written
in 1930, so much of its subject matter seems to come from today’s
society. It really made me stop and think about the way my husband and I
work to provide our children with the things we never had, and they
don’t seem all that impressed. I have read that this new generation is
often called the “generation of entitlement,” but Maugham’s play
demonstrates that every generation struggles with this.
The outstanding cast
took on the talky script and made it down-to-earth and appealing. Their
upper-class British accents were flawless, and each player was
completely committed to his character. Jack Gilpin gives a classy,
restrained performance as Charles, while Joe Delafield, who plays
Patrick, simply oozes brattiness. Also notable is Virginia Kull, who
plays daughter Judy with a charming mix of naiveté and quirkiness.
Breadwinner is a delightful class study that was well worth the drive to
Lowell, Mass. The show runs Wednesdays through Sundays until Oct. 30, so
don’t miss it. For more information, go to