2:17 pm Jun. 21, 2012
When Love Goes to Press was a hit—in London's West End in 1946 and on Broadway in 1947—it surprised everyone, especially its two authors, Martha Gellhorn and Virginia Cowles.
The two veteran war correspondents had written it on a whim, never suspecting that audiences would flock to what's essentially their own life stories gussied up with some lipstick and rouge.
They also never imagined that anyone would remember it. When Gellhorn (the same Gellhorn portrayed by Nicole Kidman in the recent HBO biopic Hemingway and Gellhorn) was asked for permission to finally print the play in 1992, she hadn't even saved a copy. The publisher had to dig up a carbon copy at the Library of Congress.
Watching the well-meaning revival by the Mint Theater Company, it's clear why Love Goes to Press was such a novelty at the time. The tough-talking lady reporter who could beat a man at his own game was already something of a cliché by this time—think Rosalind Russell in 1940's His Girl Friday or Katharine Hepburn in 1942's Woman of the Year—but Gellhorn and Cowles upped the ante by placing their heroines, Annabelle Jones and Jane Mason, in the middle of World War II.
Also adding to the appeal was the fact that Gellhorn and Cowles were well-known reporters at the time. Audiences assumed that they were seeing the authors' own stories onstage. And they were, more or less, right. When Annabelle sweet talks her way onto a military plane, or when Jane stows away in an ambulance so she can cover a story on the front lines, it's a thinly disguised version of what happened in real life.
Love Goes to Press borrows more than a little from The Front Page, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's 1928 comedy (and the basis for His Girl Friday). Instead of wisecracking reporters waiting around for a story in the dingy pressroom of the Chicago Criminal Court, Gellhorn and Cowles present a similarly disgruntled bunch filing stories (or stealing them from colleagues) a few miles from the front in war-torn Italy. Into this man-cave saunter Annabelle and Jane (played here by Heidi Armbruster and Angela Pierce), who want to report on the action, not just rewrite what they've been told by the military public relations staff.
Like a lot of the battle-of-the-sexes comedies from this period, Love Goes to Press isn't really all that concerned with the women's careers. It focuses more on their love lives—specifically Annabelle's tempestuous relationship with an egotistical reporter (clearly based, although Gellhorn would later deny it, on her real-life marriage to Ernest Hemingway) and Jane's love for a British military man (who resembles Cowles' husband, an officer in the Royal Air Force).
This is where what might have seemed forward thinking in 1946 feels disappointingly backwards in 2012. That the men around Annabelle and Jane would complain that the women had gotten where they were by "sex appeal" still seems right on the money. But when the women seem to agree, enjoying the attentions of their fellow journalists, the play devolves into another sappy comedy. "Imagine what it will be like," Annabelle moans early on, "when we have long grey curls and no one to carry our luggage."
The Mint's production, directed by Jerry Ruiz, feels sluggish and unfocused. There are chuckles here and there, but the pace is too slack for most of the jokes to land. What's left are the corniest of sight gags—a blanket thrown back to reveal Annabelle and Jane sleeping head to toe in an effort to stay warm, for instance. It's not much, and it goes on for three acts.
As Annabelle and Jane, Armbruster and Pierce work hard to make their characters believable, but they're stymied by a script that doesn't always provide them with much motivation. They aren't helped much by some dubious costume choices, such as a pair of red pumps for Annabelle. Surely a woman who's covered wars all over the world could find some more appropriate footwear for the trenches.
Bradford Cover is too reserved as another Brit: Major Philip Brook-Jervaux, the base's public relations officer and Jane's new beau. It's never clear why Jane would contemplate giving up her career in exchange for a life with him in Yorkshire. Rob Breckenridge captures the roguishness of the American Joe Rogers, Annabelle's once and perhaps future love interest. He's the stand-in here for Hemingway, but lacks the devil-may-care charm that would make someone like Annabelle swoon.
I liked Jay Patterson and Curzon Dobell as two of the grizzled old-timers in the press corps, especially their harmless ribbing of David Graham Jones, playing a priggish British newspaper columnist. And Thomas Matthew Kelley has just the right touch as a not-so-bright pilot whom Annabelle cons into taking her on a mission. None of them gets much time on stage, but when they show up Love Goes to Press has a lightness that it otherwise lacks.
Love Goes To Press is playing at the Mint Theater Company, 311 West 43rd St, through July 22. For tickets, click www.minttheater.org.
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