The female friend who accompanied me to what may be the first mainstream NYC production of John van Druten’s London Wall, a play about the various dynamics between the sexes, set in a law office, commented during the second intermission, “Yeah, it isn’t all that different now.” The play was written in 1931.
The only real differences would seem to be that sexual harassment was not an offense codified by law, and could only be dealt with by sympathetic management; and that women are far less prone to believe their options in life become tragically limited if they haven’t gotten married by their mid-30s. Otherwise London Wall is fascinating and, surprisingly, even a little touching, in the manner in which it dramatizes—mostly by way of comedy, but with shades of graver meaning—what seem to be both fair and unfair eternal verités.
Each of the archetypes—van Druten more or less starts with those—has an unexpected spin and the story plays out with a sensitivity and insight that seems quite a bit ahead of 1931’s commonly-held attitudes. I’m loath to describe much more, because the fun is in the discovery; but under the direction of Davis McCallum, a winning cast—Matthew Gumley, Stephen Plunkett, Alex Trow, Christopher Sears, Katie Gibson and in particular the “mentor-protégé” pair of Julia Coffey and Elise Kibler, plus the not-quite-cameo roles for two older actors, brilliantly nuanced by Laurie Kennedy and Jonathan Hogan—makes this rather longish, three-act play sail by as if time hardly mattered.
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