By JOHN DeMERS
Remember when men were men and women were spunky? Martha Gellhorn, reduced in her lifetime to fame as the third of four Mrs. Ernest Hemingways, not only remembers it. She was it.
Over three foreign wars in quick succession, while winning Hemingway away from his second wife Pauline and then losing him to his fourth, another war correspondent named Mary, Gellhorn chalked up an impressive series of journalism firsts, bests and exclusives that earned her the professional and personal jealousy of her troubled writer husband. She also, from one assignment to another, struck up a gal-pal friendship with another reporter named Virginia Cowles. The two would eventually craft a stage comedy based on their experiences covering wars together; and whatever minor success the play achieved during their lifetimes, those catching the current production of Love Goes to Press at Main Street Theater will think it deserves a good deal more.
These two resolutely spunky heroines come across as both ahead of their time and profoundly within it. They lack any and all awareness of a political movement known as women’s liberation, yet they almost thoughtlessly embody its major principals. Their very careers, achieved against both odds and male opposition, are a sotto voce call to the barricades. All the same, they want mostly very traditional things for their lives: to meet a terrific guy, go home and get married, get a house and have babies. They are, we would say now, deeply conflicted over what they want out of life. Then again, who (male or female) isn’t?
As played with high spirits by Crystal O’Brien and Elissa Levitt, Jane and Annabelle are the distaff side of a Hollywood “buddy picture,” though happily more like Hope and Crosby in the “Road” series than like Gibson and Glover in “Lethal Weapon.” They talk about guys, put on or take off clothing, put on or take off makeup, and talk about guys some more, all mixed with occasional funny-cynical zingers about life in day-to-day journalism. Considering that Jane and Annabelle are Gellhorn and Cowles in fun disguise, it’s no shock that the narrative falls on them.
Intriguingly, two recognizable elements of Hemingway in real life are spread over the women’s paired love interests: his competitive envy and swiping of reporting scoops going to Annabelle’s ex-husband, correspondent Joe Rogers (well played by another Joe, Kirkendall) and particularly his “my woman” possessiveness going to Major Philip Brooke-Jervaux, tossed out with a Scottish-Yorkshire brogue by Joel Sandel. The major, who runs the PR office for correspondents at or near the front lines in this part of Italy, represents a certain kind of man who must turn up in every woman’s romantic history – the kind who says, “I’ve got you in my incredible life now; surely you won’t be needing one of your own.”
In addition to the fast-paced direction by Mark Adams, set design by Jeffrey S. Lane, lighting by Eric L. Marsh and spot-on World War II costumes by Main Street artistic director Rebecca Greene Udden, the entire cast deserves the ovation it receives. Special kudos go to Philip Hays as pompous British journalist Leonard Lightfoot and to David Wald as lovable, world-weary, hilariously drawling newsman Tex Crowder, who apparently never found copy in a typewriter he couldn’t steal. Love Goes to Press is an exuberant romp through a piece of history few of us think about anymore, by two women who lived it fully.
Main Street Theatre photo: Elissa Levitt and Joe Kirkendall