LONDON WALL premiered in 1931 at the Duke of York’s Theatre, one of five plays by John Van Druten that enjoyed success in London in the early 30’s. The play was acclaimed for its deftly etched characters and richly detailed atmosphere, yet it languished in obscurity until London’s Finborough Theater successfully revived it in 2013. One year later our warmly-received production marked the play’s American premiere.

“This carefully observed 1931 workplace drama is both of its time and ahead of it as it follows four single women working as typists at a law firm and navigating the rocky road of romance,” wrote Diane Snyder in Time Out New York, calling the play “involving, insightful entertainment.”1 Laura Collins-Hughes of the New York Times hailed “Watching Davis McCallum’s brisk, pitch-perfect production at the Mint Theater Company feels like stumbling across a lost film classic by Howard Hawks: How did this fresh and fizzy thing fall into obscurity?”2

Our production of LONDON WALL extended three times and was nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Revival, and two Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Revival of a Play and Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play (Julia Coffey). The production was filmed by WNET for broadcast on THIRTEEN, the PBS station in New York.

Best known today for such midcentury Broadway hits as Old Acquaintance, The Voice of the Turtle, I Remember Mama, Bell, Book and Candle, and I Am a Camera (which inspired the classic Broadway musical Cabaret), John Van Druten wrote deftly observed, character-driven plays that ranged from the realistic atmosphere of his early West End plays, to the sentimental charm of his wartime hits, to the daring allurements of his final works.

Born on June 1, 1901, Van Druten grew up in a cultured middle-class London household. Though a precociously well-read and stage-struck youth, who scrawled his first play at the age of seven (on Mary, Queen of Scots), Van Druten dutifully obeyed his father and studied law. After earning his law degree in 1922, Van Druten qualified as a solicitor of the Supreme Court Judicature. During this time, he continued to write plays, and with Young Woodley, the 24 yearold Van Druten realized his dream of writing professionally for the West End theatre.

In his early West End plays, Van Druten became noted for his sensitive portrayals of young romantics and would-be bohemians, as well as for the “truthful naturalism” of his settings. Van Druten’s most successful plays during this era include the domestic drama After All (1931), London Wall (1931), for which he drew upon his personal experience working in a legal office, and the romantic comedy There’s Always Juliet (1932). Van Druten enjoyed a transatlantic success that carried him to Hollywood, where he co-wrote such classics as Gaslight, and also contributed (uncredited) to the screenplay of Gone with the Wind.

Van Druten enjoyed phenomenal Broadway success in the WWII era, with a string of critically acclaimed hits. After the effervescent Old Acquaintance (1940), he wrote the three-character romantic comedy The Voice of the Turtle (1943), which ran for a stunning 1,557 performances. The Voice of the Turtle struck resonant wartime chords that continued to appeal in 2001, when it was revived by the Keen Company and later presented at the Mint: “Van Druten’s writing
is both impressively unpretentious and deeply respectful of the characters,” observed The New York Times’ Bruce Weber. The nostalgic I Remember Mama, based on Kathryn Forbes’ novel
Mama’s Bank Account, similarly moved wartime audiences as an impressionistic “family album” (the play will be revived by the Transport Group in March of 2014). Van Druten – who
had emigrated to the United States in 1940 –became a naturalized American citizen in 1944.

The hits continued with Bell, Book and Candle (1950), about a seductive witch secretly practicing sorcery in modern Manhattan. The play was not only a “wonderfully suave and impish fancy” that served as an inspiration for TV’s “Bewitched,” but a subtle affirmation of Van Druten’s homosexual identity in the midst of the McCarthy-era gay witch hunts (the play was revived, to glowing reviews, at Hartford Stage in 2012). A gay subtext similarly informed 1951’s I Am a
Camera, adapted from his close friend Christoper Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories, and which provided an iconic role for Julie Harris as the decadent Weimar party girl Sally Bowles.

Appreciated in his own lifetime for his “amusing, touching plays, written lightly and expertly, and with beguiling style” (as described by The New York Times’ Brooks Atkinson), Van Druten is in the midst of an exciting resurgence sure to stir vivid theatrical memories, as well as to enchant new generations of theater-goers.

By Maya Cantu

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CAST

  • Julia Coffey
  • Katie Gibson
  • Matthew Gumley
  • Jonathan Hogan
  • Laurie Kennedy
  • Elise Kibler
  • Stephen Plunkett
  • Christopher Sears
  • Alex Trow

CREATIVES

  • Sets Marion Williams
  • Costumes Martha Hally
  • Lights Nicole Pearce
  • Sound Jane Shaw
  • Props Joshua Yocom
  • Dialects & Dramaturgy Amy Stoller
  • Casting Judy Bowman
  • Assistant Director Alexander Lass
  • Production Manager Sherri Kotimsky
  • Production Stage Manager Allison Deutsch
  • Assistant Stage Manager Andrea Jo Martin
  • Illustration Stefano Imbert
  • Graphics Hey Jude Design, Inc.
  • Advertising The Pekoe Group
  • Press David Gersten & Associates

MAYA CANTU
JOHN VAN DRUTEN: SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL

Maya Cantu is a dramaturg, scholar and theater historian devoted to the revitalization of forgotten classics. She is currently completing her Doctor of Fine Arts degree at Yale School of Drama. Maya is Mint Theater’s Dramaturgical Adviser and the author of the Van Druten biography that appears in our program.

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JULIE K. BEREBITSKY
AUTHOR OF SEX AND THE OFFICE: A HISTORY OF GENDER, POWER AND DESIRE

LONDON WALL offers a look at women’s continuing fight to be seen as professional equals in the workplace. Professor Berebitsky’s new book, Sex and the Office: A History of Gender, Power and Desire is the first monograph to historicize our understanding of sexual harassment in the workplace. She currently holds positions as Professor of History and Director of the Women’s Studies Program at Sewanee: The University of the South.

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WILLIAM J. MANN
AUTHOR OF BEHIND THE SCREEN: HOW GAYS AND LESBIANS SHAPED HOLLYWOOD

John Van Druten’s identity as both a gay man and talented playwright led to his becoming part of a circle of eminent gay writers living in California during the 1940s and 50s, gathered around British author Christopher Isherwood. William J. Mann will discuss Van Druten’s identity and significance as a gay writer. Mann is a novelist, biographer and historian. His biography Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn was named one of the 100 Notable Books of 2006.

MARGARET BOE BIRNS
AUTHOR OF "JOHN VAN DRUTEN" IN THE COLUMBIA ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MODERN DRAMA

Margaret Boe Birns is a lecturer on English, American and European Literature of the 20th and 19th Centuries. She teaches the courses “The Novel Today” and “Masterpieces of 19th Century Fiction” at New York University and “19th Century Masterpieces: Three Great Social Novels” at The New School. She is also a published poet.

 

JUDITH R. WALKOWITZ
AUTHOR OF NIGHTS OUT: LIFE IN COSMOPOLITAN LONDON

The typists of LONDON WALL muse upon nights “up west” as they manage relationship and workplace pressures. Professor Walkowitz will discuss the lives—and night lives—of London shorthand typists between the wars. Her book Nights Out: Life in Cosmopolitan London reveals how London’s Soho district became a showcase for a new cosmopolitan identity in the early to mid-twentieth century. Walkowitz teaches courses in British history and women’s history at Johns Hopkins University.

 

JOHN VAN DRUTEN: A WRITER'S WRITER
FEATURING TREASURES FROM THE JOHN VAN DRUTEN PAPERS

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
Bruno Walter Auditorium, 65th & Amsterdam

Mint Theater Company and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts collaborate on an intimate celebration of playwright John Van Druten. Excerpts from the author’s unpublished essays, letters, diary and plays will be read, exploring Van Druten’s relationship with such literary peers as Tennessee Williams, Christopher Isherwood, and Rodgers & Hammerstein. This event is open to the public, no reservations required.

Program

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