Anyone for afternoon tea?

Mr. Pim Passes By

By A. A. Milne
Directed by Jonathan Bank
The Mint Theater
311 W. 42rd St. (315-9434)
Equity showcase (closes January 11)
Review by Dudley Stone

A. A. Milne's Mr. Pim Passes By, written 78 years ago, in 1919, and a hit in London with Leslie Howard and in New York with Dudley Digges and Laura Hope Crews, is the sort of mild, innocent entertainment that Britishers enjoyed at a West End theatre, with tea served on a tray at the interval. This sort of comedy, with gentle irony and a quirky sense of character, is the wry kind that makes one smile rather than laugh. It would soon be replaced with the stylish, elegant wit of Noel Coward and the kind of drawing-room comedy that remained popular until John Osborne made everyone drop their teacups and sit up and take notice in l956 with Jimmy Porter as "the angry young man" in Look Back in Anger. And indeed seeing this play by Milne (famed for his Winnie the Pooh) is rather like a visit to an Olde English tearoom: very genteel, quite charming and, well, nice.

Set in the drawing room of an English country home, the simple plot has to do with whether the mistress of the house's second marriage is a bigamous one, since her first husband may or may not be dead. This intelligence is delivered by the diffident, cuddly Mr. Pim, who periodically returns to revise his reports. Everything works out for the best, of course, and everyone goes home feeling very jolly. Director Jonathan Bank, who is also the Mint Theater's Artistic Director, has given his theater the goal of "presenting good stories well told" and "rescuing worthy plays arbitrarily shelved by the whims of fate." This is a praiseworthy mission and he is to be congratulated for filling a void in Off-Off Broadway with the Mint's high-quality productions.

Although one might argue about the worthiness of this particular play, one cannot deny the creditable production, directing, and acting and the good English accents (Amy Stoller, dialect coach). Mr. Bank captured the right mood for this museum piece and generally costumed and mounted it very well. Bill Roulet as Mr. Pim was suitably cuddly and retiring; Lisa M. Bostnar as Olivia Marden was warm and alive and charming; Kim Wimmer was their very amusing, simpering, and glowing daughter; and Alice Cannon was on target as the tweedy, no-nonsense Lady Marden. Ken Kliban was very funny indeed as Olivia's husband, George. This actor beautifully underplayed George's pomposity and perplexity as he pranced around sucking on his pipe. Ian Merrill Peakes, however, seemed altogether too American for the period of the play, both in hairstyle and costume. Jennifer Mello was the non-expository maid.

For some reason the otherwise adequate traditional English drawing-room set (Katerina Fiore), instead of having French windows through which Mr. Pim would enter, had a huge wall-to-wall backdrop collage of 18 bright paintings, including Landseer, van Eyk, Botticelli and Fragonard. Apart from the fact that there was only one mention that the young man in the play was a painter, the reason for this unfortunate choice, which distracted the eyes at all times during the play, was a mystery. Costumes (John Kristiansen), except for Mr. Peake's, were just right; lights were by Stephen Petrilli. Sound (uncredited) used appropriate songs of the 1920s.

Box Score:
Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1997 Dudley Stone