Written by John Van Druten; Directed by Davis McCallum
Off Broadway, Play Revival
Extended through 4.26.14
The Mint Theater Company, 311 West 43rd Street
by Geri Silver on 2.28.14
Elise Kibler and Julia Coffey in London Wall. Photo by Richard Termine.
BOTTOM LINE: This American premiere of John Van Druten's 1931 play proves both entertaining and relevant to modern audiences.
The Mint Theater Company, with a mission to unearth and revitalize lost and forgotten plays for new audiences, is bringing John Van Druten’s London Wall to the American theatre scene for the first time in the play’s history. Originally performed on the West End in 1931, the relatively unknown British romantic drama offers an authentic and insightful glimpse into the fascinating lives of female typists in a male-driven London law firm in the post WWI period. In presenting a top-notch production of a play that has managed to retain its humor, charm, and relevance after over 80 years, London Wall sees the Mint’s Theater Company’s mission brilliantly realized.
Set entirely in the busy law offices of Messers. Walker, Windermere & Co., the play opens with the kind of chatty gossip that remains routine in the modern-day workplace. Birkenshaw (Matthew Gumley), a young Cockney office boy, cheekily reveals to Brewer (Stephen Blunkett), the newest of the firm’s lawyers, that he listens in on the private phone conversations that take place in the office. Birkenshaw eagerly reports on typist Miss Janus’ neglectful fiancé and dishes out a rumor about a romance between the young, attractive new typist Miss Pat Milligan (Elise Kibler) and the young Hec Hammond (Christopher Sears), the man who frequently takes her out to lunch. With women still a relatively new addition to the workplace and the height of the feminist movement still decades away, to say the two men don’t view their female colleagues as equals would be a severe understatement.
As the play goes on, we get to know the personalities and challenges faced by each of the typists: Pat Milligan is aggressively pursued by the sleazy Brewer, the crumbling of Miss Janus’ long-term relationship makes her fear a life of loneliness and poverty as a single woman, and Miss Hooper (Alex Trow) and Miss Bufton (Katie Gibson) divulge the details of their complicated romantic lives. Each woman is marvelously multi-dimensional and well-written, revealing strength, humor, and intelligence from female characters in a time period where such a dynamic representation was exceedingly rare.
The entire cast (which also includes Laurie Kennedy as a neurotic client and Jonathan Hogan as the traditional but respectful lawyer Mr. Walker) is exquisitely talented, and Davis McCallum’s spot-on direction combines with a perfect period set (Marion Williams) and costumes (Martha Hally) to create a captivatingly entertaining setting. The long show—over two and a half hours with two intermissions—manages to breeze by and even left me wanting more.
In one of the play’s final scenes, the firm but fair Mr. Walker lectures Miss Milligan and provides his father’s views on women in the workplace. “‘Work’s work,’ he always used to say, ‘but with women about it never can be.’ I’m afraid he was rather right, but it’s a thing we can’t go back on now.” Looking back on the piece after over 80 years of history have passed, the play not only offers fantastic entertainment but also a means to reflect on how far Western societies have come in creating a fairer climate for working women, and how far we still have to go. As long as women continue to face underrepresentation in leadership roles and struggle to achieve fair pay and treatment as workers, the insights and critiques offered in London Wall prove to be far more insightful than a simple peak into the depths of history.
(London Wall plays at The Mint Theater Company, 311 West 43rd Street, through April 26, 2014. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7PM, Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2PM, with Wednesday Matinees on March 12 and April 2 at 2PM and no performances on March 11 or April 1. Tickets are $55 (premium seats $65) and are available at ovationtix.com or by calling 866.811.4111. For more information, visit minttheater.org.)