Love Goes To Press
nytheatre.com review by Lynn Marie Macy
June 15, 2012
The semi autobiographical Love Goes To Press was written just after Word War II by Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998) and Virginia Cowles (1910 – 1983), two seasoned American war correspondents who stumbled into writing a clever and entertaining comedy for the stage. The show opened in London in 1946 to great success but sadly only ran for four performances on Broadway in 1947.
The play is set in a press camp on the Italian front near the end of World War II and centers around female war correspondents Annabelle Jones and Jane Mason; who are admittedly similar in description, personality and life experience to Gellhorn and Cowles themselves. And though the authors claimed the male characters in the play to be completely fictitious, their theatrical love interests Joe Rogers and Major Philip Brook-Jervaux bear undeniable resemblances to Gellhorn's and Cowles' real life entanglements with Ernest Hemingway and Aiden Crawley.
I found it intriguing that these intrepid women chose comedy as the vehicle for their wartime tale after all the carnage and ugliness they must have witnessed during the various conflicts they covered. On stage (as in real life) these two bold, fearless heroines penetrate their male-dominated field all the way through the enemy lines scooping their less ambitious rivals in the process. The reactions of their male competitors range from admiration, to envy, to chauvinistic disapproval. The greatest conflict arises when romance infiltrates the press camp. Annabelle Jones finds herself faced with her attractive ex-husband Joe Rogers, whom she divorced for stealing her work, and his new fiancée, ditzy English showgirl Daphne Rutherford, who is there to entertain the soldiers. Their mutual attraction still holds sway, as does his unethical behavior. Jane Mason encounters fierce opposition to her chosen profession from Major Phillip Brook-Jervaux, the public relations officer in charge, but the sparks fly in earnest even as the enemy shells begin to drop.
Director Jerry Ruiz has assembled a fantastic group of artists and we find ourselves thoroughly transported to another era. The set design by Steven C. Kemp is impressively detailed in its run-down shabbiness and Kemp creatively and easily shifts from one location to another. Lights by Christian DeAngelis and sound by Jane Shaw go miles in recreating the sights and sounds of a countryside under siege. Andrea Varga’s costumes are perfectly suited to each character and to the period and are comfortably natural in their overall effect. Ruiz keeps the show moving at a brisk pace, allowing the comedic moments and one-liners to flow freely.
The supporting cast does superb work. Jay Patterson as Tex Crowder, David Graham Jones as Leonard Lightfoot, Curzon Dobell as Hank O’Reilly, Peter Cormican as Captain Sir Alastair Drake and Ned Noyes as Corporal Cramp summon up the colorful plethora of crusty curmudgeons, harried journalists and fastidious clerks who humorously populate the Poggibonsi press camp. Thomas Matthew Kelly suavely swoops in as Major Dick Hawkins, ready to whisk Annabelle off her feet and all the way to Poland. Rob Breckenridge coats his two-timing character with a rugged appeal as Joe Rogers and Bradford Cover simply exudes staid British conservatism as Major Phillip Brook-Jervaux.
But it is the ladies who ultimately grab the spotlight. Margot White is very funny as the silly and vain actress Daphne Rutherford. Angela Pierce is a worthy counterpoint to the Major as the fiercely independent Jane Mason and Heidi Armbruster shines as the resourceful, confident Annabelle Jones. Mint audiences may recall Armbruster as the Gellhorn inspired character Dorothy Bridges in Hemingway’s play The Fifth Column in 2008. I could not help contemplating what an ironic, intriguing opportunity it must be for a performer to explore and inhabit two such distinctly different visions of the fabled Martha Gellhorn. Gellhorn’s personal vision is decidedly more fun! This sterling ensemble is solidly supported by Amy Stoller’s thoughtful work on multiple dialects.
This delightful first revival of Love Goes To Press is another rediscovered gem in the Mint Theater’s “worthy but neglected” crown.