Just blocks from the electronic frenzy of Times Square, you can slip into a gentler age and pretend that the 21st century never happened. That’s where companies such as the Mint and Peccadillo specialize in rediscovering plays past. Even when the production is a new one that merely feels like it was pulled from the archives, like Peccadillo’s Ten Chimneys, Jeffrey Hatcher’s sporadically amusing but lumpy comedy-drama, you might expect to see Brooks Atkinson along the aisle.
Hatcher’s play offers a grand opportunity to see first-rate real-life husband-and-wife actors Byron Jennings and Carolyn McCormick performing together as legendary real-life husband-and-wife actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, who never appeared apart. Set mostly in 1937 at Ten Chimneys, the Lunts’ Wisconsin summer home (grandly rendered by scenic designer Harry Feiner), it’s part backstage comedy and part warts-and-all tribute to a great acting team, as devoted to each other as they were to the stage. They’re rehearsing a production of The Seagull with a fledgling Uta Hagen (Julia Bray, a bit flat) and Sydney Greenstreet (Michael McCarty), pre-Hollywood fame. As the Lunts’ crowd-pleasing showmanship contrasts with Hagen’s Method approach, Chekhov’s play begins to mirror their personal struggles.
Ten Chimneys’ best moments come in bits, such as when the Lunts battle to rehearse a scene, or when Lynn trades barbs with her mother-in-law (a tartly spry Lucy Martin). It’s a superb showcase for McCormick, who balances Lynn’s diva moments with the frailties of someone vexed by her limitations. Too bad Dan Wackerman’s direction and Hatcher’s plotting seem to be on a leisurely summer stroll through the estate.—Diane Snyder