June 20, 2012

The war correspondent heroines of the 1946 play “Love Goes to Press” have smarts and bravado and glamour. They also have an impeccable pedigree: They’re creations of Martha Gellhorn and Virginia Cowles, journalists who covered the Spanish Civil War and World War II, which gave them intense, firsthand experience of the topic.

Interestingly, “Love Goes to Press,” the latest work to be plucked out of obscurity and dusted off by the invaluable Mint Theater Company, isn’t a heavy treatise on war but an enjoyable romantic comedy, whose real skirmishes are between the sexes. With its rat-a-tat rhythms, this Jerry Ruiz-directed production evokes the screwball comedies of the era, a sort of “His Girl Friday” at the front lines.

The year is 1944, and the dateline Poggibonsi, Italy, just a few miles from where the battle rages. Two “lady correspondents,” Jane Mason (Angela Pierce) and Annabelle Jones (Heidi Armbruster), breeze into the press camp there, much to the irritation of the British major in charge (Bradford Cover), who insists that they be given no special treatment.

But Jane and Annabelle are famous and adept at getting special treatment, whether from a general sending a comfy car or an Air Force pilot willing to fly an unauthorized mission. As one admiring colleague says, they “sail around looking like Vogue illustrations and they get the stories before you’ve even heard of them.” They do look great in their wide-legged, high-waisted pants and the occasional red pumps. (The costumes are by Andrea Varga.)

The major, a Yorkshire farmer in civilian life, eventually falls for Jane, won over by her passion and courage. (In his Ralph Bellamy way, he calls her “one of the sweetest little girls I’ve ever met.”) But could Jane settle down in Yorkshire, making butter and cheddar cheese?

Also at the camp is Joe Rogers (Rob Breckenridge), Annabelle’s ex, a hard-drinking reporter who has a history of stealing her scoops and is now engaged to a ninny of a British actress (Margot White).

Mining 1940s theater and film styles, “Love Goes to Press” can feel satisfyingly old-fashioned. But it also has contemporary bite, focusing on the struggles of two intelligent, self-aware women to combine love and career. (Nice, too, that they’re friends and not undermining enemies.)

Ms. Gellhorn and Ms. Cowles didn’t write a great play, but they did produce a solid, entertaining and only occasionally creaky one. The Mint production gives a good account of it, though some of the lead performances could use more sparkle. Ms. Armbruster is a standout, sharp-tongued without being brittle, but Mr. Breckenridge doesn’t quite know what to make of the slippery Joe.

Still, Jane and Annabelle, comic versions of their authors, make the play shine. They’re like the little sisters of the fast-talking Warner Brothers dames of the 1930s: educated and all grown up and courageous enough to go off to war, notebooks at the ready and every hair in place.