'ECHOES OF THE WAR': WHEN PATRIOTISM MEANT GIVING UP SONS
by Lucy Komisar
American Reporter Correspondent
New York, N.Y.
NEW YORK -- These rather innocent, near soupy one-act plays by J.M. Barrie, best-known as the author of "Peter Pan," is what one might call heartwarming in an era before cynicism. It's about the people left behind in London when the young men went off to fight in World War I. As straightforwardly directed by Eleanor Reissa, the plays' appeal is in their nostalgia. But underlying them both is the now-disputed notion that defines patriotism as people's willingness to readily, unquestioningly, send their sons off to war.
One play is about a father who can't quite communicate with his son but finally is motivated to try. The other deals with an old woman who never had a son, invents one to feel part of the war effort, and finesses like mad when a young soldier serendipitously turns up.
Ann-Marie Cusson (Mrs. Torrance) seems to flutter in and out as the mother in "The New Word," yet even in her absence, she is a presence, the emotional center of the home. The father (played by Richard Easton with subtle energy and sensitivity) is such an invisible man to his family, that his wife doesn't even listen to what he says. There's a funny riff where he deliberately makes some outrageous remarks that she absentmindedly nods to. (An insider husband joke, to be sure.)
As son (Aaron Krohn), a new left-tenant, is going to join his regiment, Father thinks he'd better make an effort to communicate. He has a hard time getting beyond the cigar-and-sports culture. All that meant a lot more at the time of the stiff-upper-lip formal early 20th century British upper-middle classes.
The second, "The Old Lady Shows Her Medals," is about Mrs. Dowey (played with panache and a twinkle by Frances Sternhagen), a cleaning women so involved in the war that has swept the psyche of the country that she discusses with her fellow maids the ability and strategy of military leaders the way some people discourse on sports plays.
The three indomitable charwoman (Sternhagen, Katherine McGrath and Pat Nesbit) also converse about the high fashion clothes of rich "society" women. It's a fascinating throwback to another era when the masses cheered war and lived vicariously through wealthy celebrities...well, maybe it's not such a throwback!
Mrs. Twymley (McGrath) and Mrs. Mickleham (Nesbit) brag about their sons. Poor unmarried Mrs. Dowey has taken the honorific on her own. Still, she doesn't want to be left out. The three nitty-gritty ladies are the high point of the production)
The schmaltz comes on thick along with the arrival at Mrs. Dowey's basement apartment of a young trooper (Gareth Saxe), who turns out to be an orphan. The interaction of the two emotionally bereft souls is charming.
As is usual in Mint productions, the acting is of all-around high quality. Designer Vicki Davis has created excellent, realistic sets that show the middle class sitting room and the charwoman's basement bed-sitter.
Lucy Komisar welcomes your comments. Please send them to mailto:lkomisar(at)echonyc.com.