BWW Reviews: LOVE GOES TO PRESS is Fun, Witty, & Intelligent
Main Street Theater is offering Houstonians an unparalleled delight with their production of Martha Gellhorn and Virginia Cowles' play LOVE GOES TO PRESS. The play found success in London in 1946 and then moved across the pond to New York in 1947. It opened January 1 and closed on January 4. The play was not touched again in the United States until earlier in 2012 when the Mint Theater revived it. With a strong and talented cast and crew, Main Street Theater is presenting the Regional Premiere of the mad cap, romantic, and charmingly feminist comedy, running now through December 23, 2012.
Martha Gellhorn and Virginia Cowles' play follows two smart, bold, and beautiful women who are renowned for scooping their male counterparts. They arrive in an Italian Press Camp, about eight miles from the front line. Through hilarious dramatic irony and an almost Shakespearean sense of farce, the women navigate their romantic lives, the complications that come with being a female war correspondent, and balancing their personal and professional lives. Strong social commentary, witty dialogue, and even a case of mistaken identities are sure to leave the audience rolling in the aisles while the audience ponders the lasting poignancy of the work. Simply put, the play's lack of success in New York in 1947 may have ultimately been that it was just too far ahead of its time for American tastes.
Direction by Mark Adams is mostly fast paced, ensuring that all of the comedy lands well. The first scene of the show is lengthy. This makes the play feel as though it drags its feet a couple of times before the first blackout late in the first act. Yet, the rest of play moves along with great pacing, keeping the audience easily engaged and intrigued.
Leading the show, Elissa Levitt's Annabelle Jones and Crystal O'Brien's Jane Mason are a fascinating duo. Independent of each other, both women are strong, intelligent, and motivated professionals attempting to be the best they can be. They chase their leads, regardless of danger, so they can publish a life altering story that may improve conditions through educating the masses. As friends, they are charismatic and win the audience over, especially when we get to see their girl-talk version of locker room talk. As they tell each other their stories of "conquests" and failed romances, the audience sees them fold their clothing and concern their selves with hair and make-up. The disparity of the situation is comical and speaks to modern audiences about being able to be purposely pretty while be intelligent and powerful. As they have reversed the "male gaze" it is clear they worry about outward appearances because they want to, not because they feel they must. Elissa Levitt and Crystal O'Brien have deftly created richly realistic and fascinating characters that are wholly complex and entertaining.
Playing Daphne Rutherford, Jacqui Grady portrays the foil to Annabelle Jones and Jane Mason. Daphne Rutherford is devastatingly domesticated and "feminine," seeming to be searching for the right man to control and own her. Jacqui Grady flits about the stage, earning her fair share of laughter playing the ditz that just doesn't understand what is really happening around her.
Major Philip Brooke-Jervaux played by Joel Sandel and Joe Rogers played by Joe Kirkendall would make women swoon if this was any other romantic comedy. Instead, utilizing every cliché and swoon worthy tactic available, these men create characters that seek only to domesticate and tame the women the audience roots for. They offer the women financial security, fidelity, and romance that will only diminish and fade after marriage. What girl wouldn't want all of that? The audience gets great joy and many laughs out of watching these handsome, leading men tirelessly chase the lovely leading ladies. Being so well played throughout the show, the irony of the final circumstance the men find themselves in brings down the house with hearty guffaws of laughter.
Philip Hays, as Leonard Lightfoot, is comedic gold. His efforts to win over Daphne Rutherford are well played and devilishly timed. Many of the laughs he earned are reminiscent of the laughs that one might earn playing Malvolio in TWELFTH NIGHT as he walks on stage in cross gartered yellow stockings. Not duped in the same way as Malvolio, Philip Hays' Leonard Lightfoot is often the butt of a joke because of how silly the snobbish prat is.
Dain Geist's Hank O'Reilly and David Wald's Tex Crowder are wonderful comedic portraits of war-time Americans. In these portrayals the audience is treated to the zeal and laziness that earns the reputation that precedes us in foreign lands. This is not to say that the characters are in any way condemnatory of Americans, but instead a loving, jesting caricature of how we present ourselves. Dain Geist and David Wald play the caricatures for laughs and flawlessly earn every chuckle, grin, and guffaw.
As Corporal Cramp, Bobby Haworth is amiable and altogether sweet. His character is kind and considerate of all the other players, making the audience adore him.
As Captain Sir Alastair Drake and as Major Dick Hawkins Brain Heaton and John Strickland, respectively, deliver suitable performances that fit perfectly in the tapestry woven by the other players.
Jeffery S. Lane's Set Design for the show is vividly detailed and sparse enough to ensure that show plays well in the round. Each corner has an entrance that fits the room stylistically while being uniquely its own. A highlight of this approach is the door with bullet holes on either side of it and a broken door handle. Being set in Italy, the vibrant orange color choice for the wall seems wonderfully appropriate realistically and then stylistically for the comedy aspect of the production. The set is at its most evocative when minor special effects are employed during the second act shelling.
Eric L. Marsh's Lighting Design is simplistic, bathing the performance space in warm ambers. Lights do shift to only illuminate a corner of the stage for the second scene in the first act.
Craig Seanor's sound design works well in the space. The sounds of shelling happening outside the building are chillingly realistic, allowing the cast to have something concrete to adequately react to.
ReBecca Greene Udden and Rodney Walsworth deserve Medals of Honor for their Costume Design and Poperties Design respectively. Everything they bring to the stage looks wonderful and appropriate for the time and setting. The boots and shoes look appropriately worn and distressed, while the bottles of nail polish look appropriately used with a sense of fresh newness to them.
Main Street Theater's LOVE GOES TO PRESS is a fun show, free from the holiday hustle and bustle. The comedy is brainy and still relevant without reminding us of the obligatory Yuletide greetings and festivities. If something fun, witty, and intelligent is what you're after, Main Street Theater's LOVE GOES TO PRESS is your ideal ticket.
LOVE GOES TO PRESS runs at Main Street Theater's Rice Village location until December 23, 2012. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.mainstreettheater.com/ or call (713) 524 – 6706.
Photos by Kaitlyn Walker, courtesy of Main Street Theater.