The celebrated war correspondent Martha Gellhorn was so blase about “Love Goes to Press,” the wartime “play a clef” she and fellow reporter Virginia Cowles dashed off for fun, she didn’t even keep a copy of the script. So it’s a pleasant surprise to see how fresh and funny their 1946 romantic comedy plays in this smart Mint revival helmed by Jerry Ruiz. The two daredevil female correspondents who show up at a scruffy press camp on the Italian front are clearly based on the scribes, and yes, that’s Gellhorn’s narcissistic ex-husband, Ernest Hemingway, among the cynical reporters.
Jane Mason (Angela Pierce, spot on), a gorgeous blonde who’s covering the war for a New York daily, and her colleague Annabelle Jones (Heidi Armbruster, ditto), a gorgeous blonde who files dispatches for her newspaper in San Francisco, are overjoyed to find themselves at the same ramshackle press encampment in Italy in 1944.
That rude setting is meticulously rendered, down to the last grubby detail, by designer Steven C. Kemp. Andrea Varga’s period costumes look authentic (down to the ladies’ lingerie) without being absurdly ugly. And props master Joshua Yocom has done a terrific job of chasing down all the battered typewriters, field telephones, wall maps and chipped teacups to make the place look like home to a battle-weary journalist.
Ruiz’s directorial coup is the uniform excellence of the ensemble work. Ned Noyes is the soul of kindly good cheer in the secondary role of a sweet-tempered British orderly. David Graham Jones shines in the even smaller role of a buttoned-up and utterly humorless journo. But even the walk-ons are impressive.
Annabelle and Jane, of course, are the radiant stars of their own personal dramas. At first, the nostalgic anecdotes they spin about covering wars in hotspots like Spain, Greece, Africa and Russia sound like authorial bragging. (“I got slightly involved with a Frenchman in Tunis last summer,” Jane lets it be known, “but then we invaded Sicily and I had to leave him.”) But as we’re reminded in the excellent program notes (the invaluable contribution of company dramaturgs), Cowles was in the thick of things during WWII, most dramatically at the German invasion of Poland. And while Gellhorn’s rep was inevitably overshadowed by that of her famous husband, she was a better journalist, covering just about every major conflict from the Spanish Civil War to the U.S. invasion of Panama.
Women war correspondents are known to be a tough breed, and these two are absolutely ruthless about using their sexual advantage to manipulate the gullible military personnel who foolishly underestimate their professional capabilities. But unlike the world-weary hacks played with marvelously droll humor by Jay Patterson and Curzon Dobell — two characters who are content to sit around the press room playing cards, rewriting official communique and stealing each other’s stories — Jane and Annabelle get a giddy adrenaline rush from taking risks, always angling for dangerous missions that would take them into the heart of the action.
Comic complications arise when Daphne Rutherford, a silly little actress played with kewpie-doll cuteness by Margot White, accidentally goes off on one of these missions. The romantic complications are even trickier. Jane finds herself attracted to Major Brooke-Jervaux (Bradford Cover), the hard-nosed British officer in charge of the press camp, while Annabelle realizes that she’s still in love with her ex-husband, Joe Rogers (Rob Breckenridge).
Cowles and Gellhorn may not have known the first thing about writing a play, but these principled journalists knew everything in the world about the thrill of performing a dangerous job and coming out alive.