By Lucy Komisar
This play is about class and feminism, and also about the corruption of capitalism.
It is a smart satire by British playwright Elizabeth Baker staged in London in 1917. Baker started out as an office typist and wrote about office workers and shop girls and their struggles for emancipation against the bonds of class and gender. She was a supporter of the suffragist movement.
Director Jackson Grace Gay makes the feminist story contemporary 100 years later.
Kate Rolling (the excellent Sara Haider) is a couture dressmaker for the aristocracy. Or at least for the very rich. In Brighton, where they summer.
She and her associate Maisie Glow (well played by Olivia Gilliatt) are getting proposals. “They must think we are fools. We are eligible young woman.”
A smarmy businessman George Pillatt (a vaguely threatening Gene Fillette) with a wizened drawn face, proposes to Kate that he buy the shop next door, link the two to make a profitable expansion and, by the way, turn the partnership personal by marrying her.
Because she has not only style but brains. Haider is quite charming in the role. “I shall have to keep my own name,” she declares,
But that is absurd as the issue. If she has had a lot of proposals, why would she take his? She is very attractive. He, in the role, is not.
Forget about her name, she would give up her independence, not to mention her body. And it’s all about money. She would sell herself. (Is that the message being sent?)
Maisie looks at the contract and calls it a nice little bribe. Gilliatt plays her as smart and slightly cynical. She knows how the system works.
Then another person enters the story, Lawrence Fawcett (the appealing Joshua Echebiri), a very laid back charming young man who one day tags along with Pillatt to the shop. He inherited Esmeralda, a profitable company that made corsets, but sold it because it didn’t interest him. Now he’s looking into the dye business. Pillatt thinks he isn’t serious.
But he charms Kate. And persuades her to join him for a picnic on the downs north of the city. Where he raises the question of what is worthwhile in life. And it’s not only work and money.
Still, she doesn’t immediately throw off Pickett. Though when he agrees on the work/life partnership, she shakes hands, but will not kiss him. This woman has agency. How will she use it?
What would a liberated woman 100 years ago have done? Or a corporate woman today? One fixed on making it? Maybe the play is not as dated as the elegant costumes suggest. And it is very entertaining.
“Partnership.” Written by Elizabeth Baker. Directed by Jackson Grace Gay. Mint Theater Company at Theater Row, 410 West 42nd St., NYC. Runtime 2:30. Opened Oct 19, 2023, closes Nov 12, 2023. Review on NY Theatre Wire.