They took jobs assisting men. And they looked for a husband. And they hoped for the best.
The Mint Theatre's revival of John van Druten's London Wall is an aged (1931) but still appropriate telling of what happens with two women when neither of those things work out as planned. It's classified as a romantic comedy, but it's much more; a dual coming of age of two women at different peaks in their life. Both tales told with humor, affection, and the right amount of desperation.
Centered around a young, attractive set of admins working for the law offices of Walker, Windmere, and Co., and set smack in the middle of their work-a-day life, the plot focuses mainly on Miss Milligan and Miss Janus, the former young and innocent, the latter neither of those things.
Miss Milligan, the youngster, is the newest member of the typing pool Walker, Windmere, and Co., and comes perilously close to falling for her licentious boss, Mr. Brewer (perfectly played by Stephen Plunkett) instead of the young poet in the office below who truly loves her. You won't find an actress with a face as soft and sweet as Elise Kibler's, who plays Miss Milligan. Match that softness with the striking, fiercely drawn features of Julia Coffey, who plays the smart and world-weary senior typist Miss Janus, and you have one of the best female relationships being portrayed off-Broadway.
As Miss Janus, Coffey is the moral center of the play, and she delivers each line with the expertise and confidence of an actress who knows the emotional center of the production sits on her shoulders. She carries the burden with grace and determination and serves as a nice counterpoint to the rest of the office staff, all of whom are lighthearted, engaging, and funny, but peripheral.
The stories of young Miss Milligan and the more experienced Miss Janus intertwine; Miss Milligan's first blush of love comes into full rosy bloom, with Miss Janus' break-up ending with her own bittersweet personal resolve to live and love as a single lady. The two women initially irritate each other, but by the end become each other's inspiration and support.
Beginning in the mid-1920s, John van Druten made a name for himself in London's West End (Diversion , Somebody Knows, and Behold, We Live ) and Broadway (most notably with Voice of the Turtle, which ran for more than 1,500 performances). His specialty was light-hearted romance and comedy, and London Wall is both funny and romantic. Yet there's more to it than light laughter and stolen kisses; these characters - especially the women - are confused, tired, and defensive. They are fully human, and their story is graciously told by van Druten.
The Mint Theatre, which specializes in mounting vintage theatre, is to be commended here: the set by Marion Williams is simple and first-rate, the lights by Nicole Pearce wonderfully representative of a law office and library, and Martha Hally's costumes are elegantly feminine for the women and office-appropriate suits for the men.
Of note is the direction, by Davis McCallum. Mr. McCallum runs his cast ragged; characters crossing, door slamming, messages delivered, phones ringing, typewriters buzzing and mouths gossiping. It's frantic and fun, and is nicely juxtaposed with the more serious dilemmas of the two leading ladies.
Written by: John van Druten
Directed by: Davis McCallum
Mint Theatre Company
311 West 43rd Street, Floor 3
For tickets: www.minttheatre.org