…from palace to office…
In James Barrie’s comedy The Twelve Pound Look of 1920, seen recently, a woman who boldly divorced her wealthy, aristocratic husband finds independence and contentment as a typist … but the entire play is set in the husband’s palatial home. John Van Druten, eleven years later, thrusts us directly into the woman’s workplace: we’re in the office in London Wall — with a great set by Marion Williams — and the play’s about the women and men who work there. Amidst the file cabinets, desks and typewriters, we’re drawn into the lives of typists and clerks in a London barrister’s office, and what they face in finding love, off-hours entertainment, spiritual satisfaction and enough money to pay the rent. What a difference in eleven years!
Miss Pat Milligan is the newest and youngest of the typists who’s set upon by the in-house skirt chaser, Mr. Brewer, the firm’s handsome, young lawyer. The older and experienced Miss Janus warms Pat about him, but how can a pretty nineteen year-old girl, alone in the world and with a minuscule salary, resist the attentions of a charming professional man who wines and dines her? Best of all — and what really gets her heart racing — Brewer takes her to the theater!
Through the lives in this busy, working office, Van Druten lets us see love in all its parts: innocent, worldly, youthful, mature, young naïve, old naïve, heartbreaking and rewarding. A strength of this play is its unobtrusive exploration of the several ages of women, but men, too are given their due, with the young clerk Birkenshaw and the elderly head of the firm, Mr. Wagner, rounding things out in terms of gender.
Two in this fine cast particularly capture the rapid-fire humor, and tossed-off ironies of 1930’s comedies, Stephen Plunkett as Mr. Brewer and Julia Coffey as the knowing but vulnerable Miss Janus. Laurie Kennedy is amusing as the vague — but she knows perfectly well what she’s doing — elderly patron of the firm.
Jonathan Hogan is the firm’s authoritative head, Mr. Walker, who has one foot in the old ways and the other stretching to take the big step forward, an early — and I’d bet influential — version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s King of Siam. Old school while open to new realities, Walker struggles to cope fairly with that current huge challenge: women in the office!
One can see why the lusty Brewer sets his sights on the pretty Miss Pat Milligan: Elise Kibler plays the part with charming sass but often speaks in a casually conversational tone, just above a whisper, without projecting her voice — a try at some some kind of naturalism but the upshot is you can’t hear her.
John Van Druten went on to write some of the finest, longest running, and most popular plays, in London and on Broadway, including I Remember Mama, The Voice Of The Turtle, Bell, Book and Candle, and I Am A Camera; and he also directed, and wrote for the movies. He was a real theater man — no wonder Mr. Brewer is able to turn Miss Milligan’s head by giving her the best kind of evening there is — by taking her to a play, probably one by John Van Druten. Thanks to the Mint Theater for giving us the chance to see this enjoyable play — the best kind of evening there is!
London Wall plays at The Mint Theater, Midtown West in Manhattan, through April 14, 2014.