By: Paulanne Simmons
The plays of John Van Druten are an odd choice for Mint Theater Company, whose oft- stated mission is to produce "worthwhile plays from the
past that have been lost or forgotten." Van Druten is hardly forgotten. Old Acquaintance was produced on Broadway just a few years ago. I Am a Camera was the inspiration for Cabaret, which is once again in revival on the Great White Way. And I Remember Mama is a perennial favorite.
Nevertheless, no one should complain that the Mint has chosen to re-stage Drutenʼs London Wall, a 1931 comedy based on the playwrightʼs experiences as a clerk in a solicitorʼs office. The play chronicles the romantic peccadillos of the staff in the office of Messers. Walker, Windermere & Co. And although one does not get the impression Druten enjoyed his stint as a clerk, London Wall is quite funny and often moving. It certainly is a realistic portrayal of what an unmarried womanʼs life was like in the 1930s.
The show is ably directed by Davis McCallum and features the magnificent Julia Coffey as Miss Janus, the long-suffering fiancée whose mix of cynicism and generosity makes her irresistible to all but her unseen cad of a boyfriend. Mr. Brewer (Stephen Plunkett), a junior lawyer in the office, does not share Miss Janusʼs boyfriendʼs lack of interest. He has his eye (and sometimes his hands) not only on Miss Janus, but also Pat Mulligan (Elise Kibler), the innocent and susceptible newly hired typist.
Miss Mulligan has another suitor, Mr. Hec Hammond (the very likable Christopher Sears) who works downstairs. But Hammond is so timid and uncertain itʼs hardly surprising she is more attractive to the aggressive but charming Brewer.
Miss Janus does her best to shield Miss Mulligan from Brewster, but itʼs an uphill battle. Miss Mulligan also finds a friend in Miss Willesden (the delightful Laurie Kennedy) a batty elderly client given to initiating lawsuits and changing her will. It is up to the very dignified Mr. Walker (played with perfect bemused humor by Jonathan Hogan) to set the office world to rights.
London Wall also features a wonderful office created by set designer Marion Williams, and beautiful and appropriate period clothing by costume designer Martha Hally. Both work together to put the audience back in the those days when phones needed switchboard operators and were attached to wall sockets.
In some ways the early years of the last century were not a great time for women. If they were liberated from the home, it was only for poorly paid work in offices and factories. Unmarried women were pitied, often for good reason. Druten realized all this. Yet today he brings b
ack a certain charm that was not absent from those times when men still opened doors for women and believed they had to watch their language when in the presence of the gentle sex.
Photo: Richard Termine
London Wall plays through April 13 at Mint Theater, 311 West 43 Street, 3rd floor.
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