Theater Review: ‘London Wall’

February 28, 2014 Updated: February 26, 2014

NEW YORK—The Mint Theater Company, whose mission is to present neglected but noteworthy plays of the past, is now offering London Wall by the celebrated and prolific playwright John Van Druten.

Best known for such popular successes as I Remember Mama, The Voice of the Turtle, I Am a Camera (later becoming the basis for the hit musical Cabaret), and many others, his London Wall offers insight into the doings of a London law office. Most particularly, it looks into the personal relationships: loves, hates, and romances among the lower level employees.

Set in the early 1930s—the Depression days—this foray into a bustling law office offers both entertainment and, unusually perhaps, insight into the lives of those who truly struggle for their daily bread. Most notably, these are the stenotypists of what nowadays is often called “the typing pool.”

A 19-year-old new employee, Pat (Elise Kibler), is quickly set upon by the Casanova of the office, the young attorney Mr. Brewer (Stephen Plunkett). It’s obvious she is vulnerable as well as attractive. On her part, although Pat senses Brewer’s smarmy ways, he can offer her a pleasant evening out: dinner and the theater, not attainable on her lowly salary of a few shillings per week.

However, Hec. Hammond (Christopher Sears), a clerk in the firm, truly cares for Pat. But as he’s also on a low salary, he can’t offer Pat the luxurious benefits that Brewer can. And, maybe more importantly, Hec. isn’t skillful in making his feelings known to Pat.

Fortunately, Pat has a protector in fellow worker Miss Janus (Julia Coffey). Having been with the firm for many years with no chance for advancement, she hasn’t much to look forward to unless she should be fortunate enough to marry.

Miss Janus wisely tries to steer Pat away from Brewer and to encourage Hec. to express his feelings toward Pat. Besides, Hec. won’t be a clerk all his life; he is a wannabe writer and sometimes works on his creative efforts with Pat.

Miss Willesden (Laurie Kennedy), a client of the firm, pays several visits. These involve the rewriting of her will or attempts to press lawsuits, which generally don’t hold water. A rather bizarre figure in outlandish dress, she and her visits are tolerated as she is apparently quite wealthy.

But in addition, Miss Willesden is also sensitive to the plights of the underpaid workers and arguably serves as the playwright’s mouthpiece in making this injustice known.

Miss Janus later suffers a tragedy: The man she has been involved with for seven years abruptly breaks off their relationship. She had hoped to marry him, even though she no longer loved him. But given her limited skills, marriage had been her only hope. What will become of her?

Therefore, selflessly, Miss Janus pours her energies into helping Pat make the kind of decision that will lead the younger girl to a successful life.

Brewer ultimately gets his comeuppance from the boss, Mr. Walker (Jonathan Hogan), known to his employees as the Lord, who believes that people should behave like automatons on the job and that it’s difficult to have women working in an office.

Director Davis McCallum has mined every nuance of the text and brought out lively performances from the entire cast. He has also paced the proceedings at an energetic pitch, displaying the pressures of a busy law office. Some creative and rapid set changes (sets by Marion Williams) keep the pace going.

Dress of the ’30s (costumes by Martha Hally) are specifically chosen: modest garb for the young Pat, serious dress for Miss Janus, fashionable for bleached blonde Miss Bufton (Katie Gibson).

In this consistently excellent cast, I would single out Julia Coffey, Laurie Kennedy, Stephen Plunkett, and newcomer Elise Kibler as making the most intense impressions. Others in the cast are Matthew Gumley and Alex Trow.

London Wall
Mint Theater Company
311 West 43rd Street
Running Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes
Tickets: 866-811-4111 or visit minttheater.org
Closes: April 27

Diana Barth writes and publishes New Millennium, an arts publication. For information: diabarth@juno.com.

RECOMMENDED