Philip Goes Forth
Jerry Ruiz’s elegant staging of this 1931 play pulls a low-stakes middle-class drama off the page.
The Mint Theater's Philip Goes Forth is a beautifully staged production of Pulitzer Prize winner George Kelly's last play before his move to Hollywood. The production highlights and enlivens Kelly's realistic writing and moralistic bent, looking at upper-middle-class life in the early 1900s.
The play follows Philip Eldridge (Bernardo Cubría), a recent college graduate who's home and taking up his place in his father's insurance company. The drama revolves around Philip's apparently recently acquired desire to write plays (a dream that is obviously pursuable only in New York City) and his father's blustery anger at the very idea. As is the case of Mr. Eldridge (Cliff Bemis), most of the play's auxiliary characters fall into one of two categories: for or against the forth-going of young Philip. While this makes each character's actions fairly predictable, interestingly it keeps audience members somewhat ambivalent as to what their own opinion of Philip's prospects should be.
The play's strongest acting comes at the hands of the actors portraying its most over-the-top characters: Philip's college friend and hipster-before-it-was-cool, Mr. Shronk (Teddy Bergman), and the happily widowed family friend (and mother of the play's love interest), Mrs. Oliver (Carole Healey). To the credit of the actors, as well as director Jerry Ruiz, each of these characters brings consistent sparkle to a play that continually dances just on the edge of dullness. The cast's newest addition is Kathryn Kates. Though from the outside she seems perfectly suited to the role of New York landlady and former Broadway star Mrs. Ferris, Kates doesn't yet seem to have settled into the part. Though if she does find her way during the run, she will doubtless become one of the play's shining stars.
In addition to giving his actors space to create some delightful characters, Ruiz's influence is felt in the occasionally almost choreographic staging and the production's fantastic design. Because the show's drama is driven almost entirely by ideas and very rarely by actions (except, of course, the actual "going forth" of the title, which happens offstage between acts), Ruiz's direction keeps the actors constantly moving and off of the set's comfy couches and cushy chairs. No one sits down to have a conversation or share ideas in this show. Ruiz succeeds admirably in his choice, keeping the kinetic energy of motion smooth and dance-like. This affected movement feels perfectly suited to Steven C. Kemps and Joshua Yocom's gorgeous, detail-packed sets and Toby Algya's playful sound design (what was almost definitely an instrumental cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" played during intermission).
Philip Goes Forth is not one of Kelly's best-known or most appreciated plays, which is unsurprising given its tedious plot and anticlimactic drama. However, it is an interesting study of what it means to be an artist and a fascinating look at the morality of a celebrated American playwright. With the help of a competent cast and dedicated creative team, the entertainment factor in The Mint's staging of the play is a pleasant surprise.