Review: London Wall (Griffin Theatre)

| January 18, 2016

George Booker and Rochelle Therrien star in Griffin Theatre's "London Wall" by John Van Druten, directed by Robin Witt. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)          
      
   

London Wall

Written by John Van Druten
The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru Feb 14  |  tix: $31-$36  | more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
    


    
  

Griffin soars over cultural wall

  

Rochelle Therrien, Michael Saguto, Ashley Neal and Amanda Powell in Griffin Theatre's "London Wall" by John Van Druten, directed by Robin Witt. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

    
Griffin Theatre presents
    
London Wall

Review by Keith Glab

Griffin Theatre unearths a little known play depicting office life in 1930s London. You can imagine the potential problems for a play with ordinary characters, ordinary situations, and an 85-year old setting. Nevertheless, London Wall manages to grip its audience with its relatability. Despite the foreign cultural norms from across the Atlantic, the character behavior in this production really resonates.

Rochelle Therrien and Vanessa Greenway in Griffin Theatre's "London Wall" by John Van Druten, directed by Robin Witt. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)Robin Witt‘s nine-actor cast stops short of completely immersing themselves in 1930s British culture, which likely helps bridge the gap between audience and material. The accents are there and fairly consistent without going over the top. The mannerisms tend more towards modern American, however, exuding a great deal of familiarity as opposed to the stiff calculated behavior associated with the English. This gets juxtaposed on an immersive set featuring authentic costumes and delightfully indicative period music.

Among the nine characters and their various stories, a love triangle emerges as the central focus. Mr. Brewer (Nick Freed), the office womanizer, begins to work his magic on the new hire typist Patricia Milligan (Rochelle Therrien). The 19-year-old Pat also has a male friend named Hec (George Booker) who harbors a mad crush on her but lacks the courage (and money) to do anything about it. Due to Hec’s failure to make advances and her modest standard of living, Pat becomes receptive to Brewer’s offers to take her to dinner and the theatre.

Despite a focus on this situation, the three characters involved lack development. We don’t see Brewer display any redeeming qualities, Hec never amounts to anything other than a coward, and Patricia remains sweet, reactive, and unsure of herself throughout. Miss Janus (Vanessa Greenway), who has been working at the law office for ten years, easily ranks as the most three-dimensional character. She endures a tenuous relationship with her long-time fiancée, harbors obvious hatred towards Brewer, and takes Pat under her wing. Greenway ably navigates the range of emotion required for her complex character. While many of the characters end the play in a different situation than at the start, hers is the only one that exhibits an internal change.

Nick Freed and Rochelle Therrien in Griffin Theatre's "London Wall" by John Van Druten, directed by Robin Witt. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow) Vanessa Greenway, George Booker and Rochelle Therrien in Griffin Theatre's "London Wall" by John Van Druten, directed by Robin Witt. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)Rochelle Therrien and Nick Freed in Griffin Theatre's "London Wall" by John Van Druten, directed by Robin Witt. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

Two characters who enjoy relatively little stage time provide the most interesting performances. Ed Dzialo gives tremendous weight to Mr. Walker, one of the partners of the law firm. His authoritative focus on work is humorously narrow, yet fair. Similarly, Mary Poole steals the scenes involving the eccentric Ms. Willesden by giving her a dual nature of quirky self-involvement and empathetic insight. In both cases, the actors heighten the characters without taking them into the realm of unbelievability and elicit more laughs between them than the rest of the cast does combined.

Apart from looking authentic, Jeff Kmiec‘s set design proves extremely functional, with three working entrances/exits. This helps Witt successfully navigate having nine characters bustle about a small space without ever getting it too cluttered. Her spot-on pacing allows a three-act production that spans over two-and-a-half hours including the two intermissions to feel engaging but unrushed throughout.

Aside from minimal quibbles regarding actors struggling with the language and characters coming off as one dimensional, I recommend attending London Wall. The story and characters may not come off as truly unique, but they manage too sustain interest nonetheless. And unfortunately, women struggling to earn a living wage and navigate unwanted advances in the workplace doesn’t come off as foreign as it should 85 years later.

  
Rating: ★★★
  
   

London Wall continues through February 14th at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $31-$36, and are available by phone (866-811-4111) or online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at GriffinTheatre.com(Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes (includes 2 intermissions)

George Booker, Vanessa Greenway and Rochelle Therrien in Griffin Theatre's "London Wall" by John Van Druten, directed by Robin Witt. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

Photos by Michael Brosilow 


  

artists

cast

George Booker (Hec), Ed Dzialo (Walker), Nick Freed (Brewer), Vanessa Greenway (Janus), Ashley Neal (Hooper), Mary Poole (Willesden), Amanda Powell (Bufton), Michael Saguto (Birkenshaw), Rochelle Therrien (Milligan)

behind the scenes

Robin Witt (director), Jeff Kmiec (set design), Rachel Sypniewski (costume design), Brandon Wardell (lighting design), Stephen Ptacek (sound design), Lee Moore (props design), Majel Cuza (production manager), Carina Abbaticchio (asst. director), Jon Ravenscroft (stage manager), Michael Brosilow (photos)

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Category: 2016 Reviews, Den Theatre, Griffin Theatre, Keith Glab

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