John van Druten had a successful career as a playwright and screenwriter in England and the United States. Most of his best known American works were adaptations: I REMEMBER MAMA and I AM A CAMERA (a source for the musical CABARET). He also wrote the crypto-gay comedy BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE. His image is that of a talented commercial playwright, but not one of the major British or American writers. Nonetheless, the Mint Theatre, a small playhouse tucked away on the third floor of a midtown office building that specializes in producing forgotten dramas, has done us a service by mounting an excellent revival of van Druten's 1931 play LONDON WALL.
LONDON WALL is a depiction of the possibilities for women who need to work. The setting is a London law office. The senior partner recalls that his father, who founded the firm, always said that women would be a disruptive force in the workplace. It's a generation later and the all the secretaries are now single women making ridiculously small salaries. Their hope is to find a husband who will take them out of the workforce. In the meantime, they must be attractive to men without being "ruined" by them. Sexual harassment is a constant problem, particularly with a junior solicitor who sees himself as God's gift to women. The central character is the youngest of the secretaries, nineteen-year-old Pat Milligan (Elise Kibler). Pat has a very naive young admirer, Hec Hammond (Christopher Sears), but he's as poor as she is and not very romantic. When Mr. Brewer (Stephen Plunkett), the predatory junior solicitor, starts asking her out to dinner and the theatre, Pat finds it difficult to say no, despite the warnings of the older employee who befriends her. We see Pat's story against the experiences of the older secretaries: the worldly-wise senior employee who has been waiting ten years for her lover to propose to her, the fun-loving peroxide blonde who knows how to "have a good time" without getting into trouble, and the happy worker sporting her new engagement ring. The senior partner of the firm seems a model of professionalism. Like a deus ex machine, he tends to show up just in time to avert disaster. There's also an extremely eccentric fairy godmother of sorts.
In LONDON WALL, van Druten, always a good entertainer, knows how to deal with a serious subject while writing a highly enjoyable play. Davis McCallum has given the play a pitch perfect, briskly moving production. Marion Williams's set seems convincingly authentic as do Martha Halley's costumes. The nine-member cast couldn't be better. It's hard to single anyone out -- this is a fine ensemble performance. The British accents are convincing, if not authentic.
To quote one of my favorite Noel Coward lyrics, "I couldn't have liked it more."
LONDON WALL by John van Druten. Mint Theatre. March 12, 2014