THEATRE REVIEW: Love Goes To Press

Theatre Jacksonville opened its 95th season with the wartime comedy, “Love Goes to Press,” on November 7, 2014. It will be on the stage through November 22 at the Howard K.Smith Playhouse, 2032 San Marco Boulevard in Jacksonville Florida. Call (904) 396-4425 for reservations or visit theatrejax.com.

Theatre Jacksonville is only one of three theaters to do a revival of the 1946 comedy written by Martha Gellhorn and Virginia Cowles, two female war correspondents. “Love Goes to Press” opened in London in 1946 and was well received. It opened on Broadway in 1947, but only played five performances.

The play was all but lost forever until 1992, when Sandra Spanier, currently an English professor at Pennsylvania State University and General Editor of the Hemingway Letters Project, obtained the last known copy of the script (from the U.S. Copyright Office), and published it with the help of Playwright Gellhorn (who had married Hemingway in 1940; they divorced in 1945).The marvelous Mint Theatre of New York, famous for producing “worthy but neglected plays,” staged it in 2012. It was well liked and much reviewed.

Our journey to the setting begins as we listen to the pre-show music with songs from the 1940s selected and recorded by Tony Walsh, the play’s director. Through the magic of theatre, the audience is transported back to 1944, to Poggibonsi, Italy and an old war-torn building a few miles from the battle lines which is the Press Camp of American and British reporters.

The two-story set by Scenic/Lighting Designer David Dawson is remarkably realistic and detailed. The costumes, designed by Curtis Williams, complete the picture with American and British military wear, along with a few feminine touches for the ladies, which are on-the-mark accurate.

The playwrights fashioned a romantic comedy, where the battles are between the sexes, designed to appeal to an audiences recovering from the extended ordeal of World War II. It begins with two spunky veteran female reporters, eager for their next scoops and oblivious to danger, invading the masculine domain of the press camp.

Annabelle Jones (Tracy Olin) of the San Francisco World has charmed US Air Force Major Dawkins (Jordan Born) into promising to fly her to Poland. Her life is complicated romantically, as Joe Rogers (Kenny Logsdon), her former husband, is at the camp representing the San Francisco Dispatch and they still have romantic feelings for each other, despite the fact that the unscrupulous Rogers has a history of stealing Annabelle’s scoops.

Their apparently renewed romance hits a sudden snag, when Daphne Rutherford, an attractive but ditsy British actress shows up to entertain the troops and announces that she and Joe are engaged and are going to be married in two days! As played by UNF student Liz Nelson, the lady can talk faster than a teletype machine.

Annabelle is delighted to find that Jane Mason (Roxanne Lewis), her best friend and also a journalist, who works for The New York Bulletin, is at the camp. Ms. Lewis is known for her directing on our local stages, with “The Triangle Fire Factory Project” at Theatre Jacksonville and “The Whipping Man” at Players by the Sea.

Jane, a veteran correspondent of two wars, intends to get through enemy lines in a medial ambulance going to a besieged allied fort. She becomes amorously occupied with the post’s rough and tough Public Relations Officer, Major Philip Brooke-Jervaux. As played by T. James Belich, we soon learn that he is a gentle unsophisticated farmer who wants to marry Jane and take her with him to share his cows and his life on the farm.

There is a lot of male energy and style in show. Three local veteran actors play interesting roles. Making his sixth appearance on the TJ stage is Evan Gould as Captain Sir Alastair Drake, the Conducting Officer, who although on the stage for only a short time, made a lasting impression. Allen Morton is Tex Crowder, reporter for the Union Press. He has done a number of shows at TJ, and as Crowder, he appears as a southern boy who is enamored by the arrival of the women and also makes witty remarks about everything. Neal Thorburn is Leonard Lightfoot of the International Information Agency. Thornburn, fresh from three hilarious roles in TJ’s recent “Figaro,” uses his voice to once again create a memorable and colorful character. Jonathan Yates is on stage at TJ for a second time, and was previously in “As You Like It” in 2013. As the British orderly Corporal Cramp, he is picture perfect for the role and since he is a native of the United Kingdom, his British accent is also effortless perfection.

We are always interested in seeing new actors on our local stages and there are three in this play whom we hope will continue to display their talents in the future. Rich Pintello, who plays Hank O’Reilly, a reporter for Alliance Press, is making his stage debut according to his biography in the program. The previously mentioned Jordon Born did a number of leading roles in musicals in Michigan before moving to Jacksonville. T.James Belich, who moved here from Minnesota, has been an actor in a number of interesting roles, and is also the author of over twenty plays in multiple genres.

Others on the production staff include: Assistant Technical Director Garth Kennedy, Stage Manager; Hannah Ventro, Hair Designer; Mickey Leger; Light Board Operator Laura Young, Sound Board Operator Arwa Salameh, and Graphic Designer Jon Scherf.

It is good to have the talented Tony Walsh back directing at Theatre Jacksonville. He did two previous TJ plays: “The Glass Menagerie” and “Das Barbecu.” He recently retired as the Executive Director of the Thrasher-Horne Center for the Arts in Orange Park.

This play, while being a lot of fun, is also a history lesson. To that end you will find a display in the lobby of maps, newspaper clippings, and other materials to enhance your understanding of the era of the play’s setting. Don’t miss this superbly cast and well acted and directed show, which has a comical and unanticipated ending.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.

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