ON AND OFF BROADWAY
If you think”Peter Pan” when playwright James M. Barrie comes to mind, think again. At the Mint Theatre on West 43rd Street, two of his most charming, rarely seen one acts under the umbrella title ”Echoes of the War” embrace ”The Word”as a curtain raiser and “The Old Lady Shows Her Medals” both dusted off fancifully . . . .
Brightening the treasure are two Tony and OCC winners. Frances Sternhagen and Richard Easton among vintage casts directed delicately by Eleanor Reissa. Each a famous Broadway Star demonstrates their reverence for Barrie by playing in this small theatre at 31 West 43rd Street on the fifth floor.
Take the elevator, the A train or cross the state line. But go!
Though the plays involve those who only stand and wait during World War I, their relevance today is unshakeable. Central characters’ focus is on sons and husbands before, during and after their involvement as honorable warriors in honey London settings.
”The Word” introduces the subject relating to unspoken feelings. This tale centers on family awaiting their son I his new uniform entering the army. How father and son grope for and find the words for farewell despite the dad’s usual reserve is handled like fine glass. The unspoken blessing follows the relieved, nervous neophyte as he departs the parlor perhaps ever to be seen again. The moment is crucial and most touching capturing early 1900’s aura but so applicable today that may watching were misty eyed. More so, the second, the main event. “The Old Lady Shows Her Medals” imprints the war’s effect of four charwomen having tea in Mrs. Dowey’s basement apartment. Ms. Sternhagen is laid back lovely as the eldest and hostess. All four are linked together around her meager table by more than their mops an pails.
In common are their letters from the front, a source of competition in Mrs. Dowey’s case, she who never had a cold. To be a society equal, Her “son” was read about in a newspaper and her weekly letters in a neat be-ribboned packet contain empty notepaper. She chides her acquaintances. If their letters begin “dear Mother, “ hers commence “dearest.” But she turns white when Reverend Willings (Richard Easton) arrives mid tea time with a quest he’s befriended Private Dowey waiting outside to be embraced by his “mother.”
Proudly Mrs. Dowey can report to her cronies of the mop brigade that her son and she have one to theatre and had a ”sit down supper in a restaurant.” How the intergenerational relationship deepens is implied with an artist’s strokes, a source of parental pride as brassy and gleaming as medals.
In the silent ending, Mrs. Dowey pulls out her box of treasures including the short scarf Kenneth (expressive Garreth Saxe) tied round her neck and the significant Scotsman cap he wore. No longer does she need the ladies to pull up her ego. She walks as id decorated with medals, a mother who has lost a son to e war, marching with he mop and pail through her front door.
The Mint Theatre as unearthed many treasures. This one is a gem!