In the 1940s and 50s there were any number of plays dealing with the Axis, which was our enemy in World War II. Some of these plays were hits (There Shall Be No Night, A Bell For Adano, Tomorrow the World, The Doughgirls, The Eve of St.Mark), some were not (Cry Havoc, Good Morning, Corporal, The Rugged Path, Fragile Fox) – and Love Goes To Press, which opened in 1947 at the Biltmore and ran a mere 5 performances.
The play had been a success in London, and it certainly had the credentials to look promising as it approached its first night in New York. Martha Gellhorn, one of its two authors was a highly regarded foreign correspondent. Her 1936 book “The Trouble I’ve Seen”, four short novels of the Great Depression had been well received, and she had been war correspondent for Collier’s from 1937 through the war. She was also known as the ex-wife of the highly competitive Ernest Hemingway, whom she’d married in 1940, but she made it clear he was not to be discussed in any of her interviews.
Her collaborator was Virginia Cowles, who as roving war correspondent, was widely read in the London Sunday Times and the London Daily Telegraph. Her book “Looking For Trouble” became a best seller in 1941.
Leave it to Jonathan Bank, the boss at the Mint Theatre, to dig up this play, dust it off and offer it to us as another of those lost examples of what the public was seeing 50, 60, 100 years ago on the world stages. Usually these plays had enjoyed success in their first time around. This one didn’t and it was interesting to hear an after-performance talkback in which the reasons why were discussed.
The U.S. and Great Britain experienced the war in very different ways. As the Brits were much more viscerally involved, what with the Germans bombarding London almost daily, by the time the war was over, though it was just two years past victory, they could laugh at the Victorian and Edwardian attitudes toward female journalists that prevailed until the war ended. In America, we were still geared toward total misogyny when it came to women doing what was then considered “men’s work.”
The central female characters in this play are on top of things; very secure in their own identities, they make mince meat of some of the public relations officers, male journalists and International Agency men with whom they come in contact. These ladies were considered unattractive and they only got to stick around for four days on the Great White Way.
All the more reason for us to be grateful to the Mint for mounting this well-made, witty, intelligent comedy and for giving it a superb production, one that looks a lot more expensive than its limited budget must have allowed.
Featuring an ensemble cast of eleven, played out in a Press Camp in Poggibonsi, Italy in February 1943, the set is so rich in detail it could be moved without change to a Broadway stage. Jerry Ruiz has staged with a keen eye for detail; it’s a perfect example of the three-act full course meal that plays once were. Mr. Ruiz was assistant director on the Mint’s only play written by Hemingway himself (The Fifth Column,) and now here is at the helm of this much better play by one of the many Mrs. Hemingways. (forgive me, Ms. Gellhorn, but that is how you are best known.)
It’s loaded with plot, as these eleven characters mix and mingle with each other with amusing and often surprising twists and turns. Yes, some of it is contrived, as is its ending, which is a bit tidy and wrapped in a bow. I won’t give it away but it metaphorically reminded me of the way the heroine of the musical Illya, Darling said she would like all plays to end, even Medea, in which she would have had everyone go off to the beach together.
Another reason the play failed on Broadway in 1947 is that its cast was filled with names that were not box office. But the Mint’s cast, highly experienced but not front page names, works beautifully in this environment. Bradford Cover is a deserved Mint favorite, and he is joined here by other prized members of the Mint family: Angela Pierce, Heidi Armbruster, Margo White and Rob Breckenridge along with six other very interesting and original actors who inhabit the Gellhorn-Cowles characters beautifully. There were two dramaturgs on this production, and one of them did a fine job doing double duty as dialect coach, for some of the characters are British, and in the talkback, well whaddaya know? The actors weren’t British at all.
Love Goes to Press does just what good popular entertainment should do. It offers education, enlightenment, sexual tension, a lot of laughs. A masterpiece? By no means, but a rib sticking meal that is nourishing enough and most satisfying.
Love Goes to Press is onstage at the Mint Theater, 311 West 43rd Street, NYC.
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Richard Seff, who, in his career on Broadway has been a performer, agent, writer, and librettist, has written the book for Shine! The Horatio Alger Musical!, which debuted at the 2010 New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is also author of Supporting Player: My Life Upon the Wicked Stage, celebrating his lifetime on stage and behind the scenes, available through online booksellers, including Amazon.com. Read more at RichardSeff.com
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