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British playwright John Van Druten wrote some popular works — his oeuvre includes I Remember Mama; The Voice of the Turtle; Bell, Book and Candle; and I Am a Camera, which became the smash musical Cabaret, and all of which became films — but it has still taken more than eighty years for his 1931 romantic comedy London Wall to make its American debut. Its new production at Jonathan Bank’s Mint Theater makes one wonder, what took so long? In the London law firm of Walker, Windermere & Co., four shorthand typists gossip and discuss life and love in between working for young upstart and utter cad Mr. Brewer (Stephen Plunkett) and old man Walker (Jonathan Hogan). Cynical Miss Janus (Julia Coffey) has been with the firm for ten years and might or might not be dating a foreign diplomat. Sexy Miss Bufton (Katie Gibson) is a blonde bombshell who enjoys going out on the town. Miss Hooper (Alex Trow) is the ever-dependable employee who is not afraid to express occasional displeasure. And Miss Pat Milligan (Elise Kibler) is the youngest and most naïve of the typists, still finding her way in the world. The smooth-talking Brewer sets his sights on Pat, who has been spending time with the somewhat clueless Mr. Hec. Hammond (Christopher Sears), a twenty-year-old law clerk who works in the same building. Everything is overseen by Birkenshaw (Matthew Gumley), the young office boy who listens in on people’s phone conversations and brashly says whatever’s on his mind. When the case of wealthy but daffy client Miss Willesden (Laurie Kennedy) takes a sudden, unexpected turn, all of the characters are forced to reexamine who they are and what they want out of life.
Director Davis McCallum (The Whale, A Bright New Boise) keeps things moving at a near-farce pace, like fingers making their way across a typewriter, as buzzers sharply summon the women and many a door is slammed. The acting is exceptional throughout, from Hogan’s (As Is, Burn This) wise, understanding yet stern Walker and Horton Foote veteran Plunkett’s smooth, nearly effortless portrayal of would-be ladies’ man Brewer to Coffey’s (The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd) motherly Miss Janus and NYU student Kibler’s splendidly timid Miss Milligan, who is the centerpiece of the story and serves as a kind of proxy for the audience. Despite its eighty-plus years, London Wall — which was made into the 1932 film After Office Hours — doesn’t feel old, dealing with office politics and romances and the unfair treatment of women in the workplace in clever, prescient ways that are still relevant today. It’s a sheer delight that it has finally made its way across the pond, courtesy of the master revivalists at the Mint, and it turns out that it’s part of a Van Druten barrage, as the Transport Group’s I Remember Mama is set to open in March at the Gym at Judson, and the Roundabout’s Cabaret is returning to the Kit Kat Klub at Studio 54 next month, with Alan Cumming reprising his role as the Emcee and Michelle Williams playing Sally Bowles. In addition, on March 17, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is hosting the free discussion “John Van Druten: A Writer’s Writer,” which will include readings from his papers as well as his correspondences with Christopher Isherwood, Tennessee Williams, Richard Rodgers, and others.