July 19, 2004

ATTENDING a show at the Mint Theater Company is like stepping through a time machine into the more genteel past. Its latest production, a pair of one-acts written by J.M. Barrie (best known as the author of “Peter Pan”) and originally presented in New York in 1917, once again demonstrates this valuable company’s canniness at excavating theatrical history.

The two brief plays, first published in 1919 along with several others under the collective title “Echoes of the War,” are infused with a melancholy reflective of the effects of World War I on the British psyche. Although minor, they are nonetheless both touching and humorous in their effect.

“The New Word” depicts the fumbling efforts of an emotionally distant and reserved father (Richard Easton) to bond with his 19-year-old son (Aaron Krohn) just before the latter is to be sent off to the war.

In “The Old Lady Shows Her Medals,” Frances Sternhagen plays Mrs. Dowey, an aged British charwoman who impresses her friends with the volume of letters she receives from her grown son in the army. We soon learn that it has been an elaborate ruse, but when she receives a sur¬prise visit from the supposedly imaginary “Private Dowey” (Gareth Saxe) the encounter produces life-changing effects for them both.

The plays, which are brief enough not to wear out their welcome, shine under the astute direction of Eleanor Reissa. And while the younger performers struggle at times, the veterans in the cast more than make up for it.

Tony-winners Easton and Sternhagen, who together have amassed nearly a century of acting experience on the New York stage, mine their roles for every bit of emotional nuance. It’s worth the price of admission just to see the way Sternhagen’s Mrs. Dowey repeatedly claps her hands with silent glee when things start to go her way.