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‘Partnership’ Review: A Lost Tale of Ambition That Resonates

Find a job that you love and you’ll work every day of your life. So warns “Partnership,” the third Elizabeth Baker play to be staged by the Mint Theater Company, which has long nurtured the works of forgotten playwrights. Baker’s play premiered in 1917 in London, but the way it tackles the issue of work-life balance seems to speak more to the Great Resignation than to the Great War.

The owner of a successful boutique in the south of England, Kate (Sara Haider) is focused on the needs of her distinguished clients. When George Pillatt (Gene Gillette), a potential rival, instead proposes a merger, marriage is part of the deal. The union, Kate understands, would be purely professional.

As another character remarks, in one of the play’s most impressively undated lines, “Men are a lot, aren’t they?”

Kate takes more of a shine to Pillatt’s companion Lawrence Fawcett (Joshua Echebiri), a gadabout investor with mud on his boots and a glint in his eye. Fawcett inspires Kate to contemplate a new way of life, including the exquisite novelty of a day off. In the show’s breeziest scene, the pair behold the Downs, an expanse of land and sky expressed in a breathtaking backdrop: The characters effectively step into a landscape painting (adapted from an artwork by James Hart Dyke) within the gilded frame provided by the scenic designer Alexander Woodward. It’s a testament to the production that it conjures the sense of a shimmering vista in a tiny theater.

If the director Jackson Grace Gay tries a little too hard to coax out new laughs, the cast handles Baker’s gentle comedy with evident affection. Echebiri’s Fawcett comes alive in his natural habitat, while Gillette’s Pillatt has the constrained movements of one who thinks a leisurely walk is a waste of time. As Kate’s friend and associate Maisie, Olivia Gilliatt is having nearly as much fun as the costume designer (Kindall Almond) is having dressing her. Her ready energy and comical, gale force yawp could command a larger theater.

Written during the height of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States, this English playwright’s portrait of a driven businesswoman — two driven businesswomen, actually — feels boldly up-to-date. Refreshingly, by contrast, it treats some of the male characters as more or less incidental.

The suggestion of farce never materializes, but there is class critique in the play’s portrayal of characters’ couture concerns and their endless talking shop.

The plot itself — Kate’s transformation from workaholic to not-so-quiet quitter — barely rattles a teacup. But “Partnership” charms regardless, offering a gentle reminder about not letting work overtake your life. Some notions should never fall out of fashion.

Partnership
Through Nov. 12 at Theater Row, Manhattan; bfany.org. Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes.

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