By Joe Straw
De mortuis nihil nisi bonum – Of the dead nothing but good is said.
the barn and
away - Narrator
Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills presents Mr. Pim Passes By by A.A. Milne produced by David Hunt Stafford.
A.A. Milne, was a playwright but is famously noted for writing about animals in other mediums.
One thinks wistfully about the Winnie the Pooh books, but there’s also that gnawing realization that the commercialized bear gets his name above the title, his own movies, TV shows, merchandise, theme park, and the slight Mr. Pim gets very little notoriety despite being just as forgetful as Winnie was, is, and will be.
So, Set Designer Jeff G. Rack creates the beautiful setting. One can look at the living room and definitely call it home, but in an old, old fashion way, with light coming in from God’s knows where. The ancestral family thought it was enough, to bring in the sun during the day or the starlight at night. And leaving the windows without curtains was part of the reason for this day. Still, it was nice to bathe in the beautiful blues from the sky.
Olivia Marden (Roslyn Cohn) wants to spruce the place up a bit with some interesting curtains. But, these curtains are not to the liking of George Marden (John Wallace Combs), a stanch conservative, who likes his abode unchanged, just the way his great-great-grandfather left it.
But please, let’s not mince words; the place was looking rather timeworn and obsolete and by all accounts, it needs some sprucing up, new life, and new blood.
And there’s no piano.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Narrator (Laura Lee Walsh) introduced us to the home, a fine character in the plot of the story, and later becomes Ann, the household help, when she meets Mr. Caraway Pim (Jeffrey Winner), a bird of a man who is as forgetful as the metaphor that escapes me.
Mr. Pim flits about the room in abject puzzlement latching on to nothing in particular until an excessively happy and naïve Dinah finds him to explain the household relationships.
George is Dinah’s uncle and her legal guardian since she was two years old. (No mention is made of her parents.) And they lived on this pig farm in a New England community. Five years ago, George married a widow, Mrs. Telworthy, now Aunt Olivia.
Dinah’s strong urging at the moment is to tell Mr. Pim that she got engaged last night but really hasn’t enough fortitude to do that right away.
Mr. Pim is confused by all the attention he is getting. Mistaking cues, Mr. Pim wants to make a fast getaway.
“…You’re a very kind little girl.” – Pim
“I want to know if you’re married” – Dinah
“Oh, no, I’m not married.” – Pim
Brian (Troy Whitaker), her secret betroth, enters the home, from his meeting with George. Dinah casually greets him and introduces Brian to Mr. Pim.
“Brian, this is Mr. Pim! Mr. Carraway Pim. He’s been telling me all about himself.” – Dinah
“I haven’t said a word. I never opened my mouth.” – Pim
(Interesting dialogue that says quite a bit about the makeup of the mysterious Mr. Pim, his relationship to a young woman, and his relationship to a young strong virile young man in that brief meeting.)
In the course of discussing their matrimony…
“We shall never be rich,…” –Brian
(That should have sent red warning flags of conflict but passes like ships in the night.)
Soon Olivia enters the living room and hears the news. Dinah and Brian enlist Olivia to break the news to George.
George, comes back from viewing the pigs, but doesn’t find Mr. Pim, doesn’t know who he is, or what he wants (perhaps that is a diversion). That is when the happy trio proceeds to break the news to him.
George is not pleased.
Later Mr. Pim shares more information (or what could be considered misinformation). When Mrs. Julia Marden (Casey Jones) George’s aunt finds out, she wants George and Olivia’s marriage annulled.
This version of Mr. Pim Passes By by A.A. Milne is a two-act play rather than the three act as had been written. Overall, the truncated and altered version of this play is charming and has its moments, but there is more work to be done. Not so much for the leads but rather the supporting players who don’t give it enough punch to carry it along.
Nathalie Rudolph is Dinah and physically slides into the role without much problem. But there are the emotional moments that slide by, and are not accompanied by much of a backstory. Dinah wants to get married desperately and, at first, she so wants to tell the world that, including Mr. Pim. But, that really doesn’t happen. When her betrothed enters the room, she greets him like an old boyfriend twice removed. When her guardian tells her that he won’t allow the marriage, she appears largely unaffected. When she finds out her future husband wants to remain poor throughout their marriage, she hardly flinches. Rudolph needs to find a stronger objective, followed by a creative physical life to get what she wants, and an emotional core that powers her though her perceived conflict. Rudolph would do well to creatively define the relationships to her uncle, her aunt, her boyfriend, and to Mr. Pim.
Troy Whitaker is Brian Strange. Whitaker has a strong speaking voice and that works in his favor. But, there’s not a lot of depth to his character. Shirttail out of his pants and ruffled hair does not make an artist. Also, he’s not affected by the criticism of his artwork, which he passionately loves. The artwork, however, looks like crayon on paper rather than something that is aesthetically pleasing. Whitaker needs to find the makeup of this character, his strength and weakness. One weakness is his virility—he’s unable to make his point in his first meeting with George. The second is bringing in that history to his first appearance. After not telling George, he has to confront his betrothed and tell her that he has failed. But his objective should be to find his strength for the purposes of marrying the girl!
John Wallace Combs is George Marden and does well for the most part. There is a great deal of strength in his character especially in the latter half of the show, where his reality plays a crucial part in the play. This part of his performance was tremendous. And if I could make a point about his costume; the costume for this pig farmer is immaculate, not a speck of dirt on his clothes, shoes, or anywhere. He must have been a supervisor, someone who doesn’t touch the pigs, the pen, or the food. That aside, Combs gives the production a lot of vitality.
Roslyn Cohn plays Olivia Marden with so much heart it is heartbreaking when she doesn’t get what she wants. As Mrs. Telworthy, she had a checkered past but now she is committed and she wants to be with this man the rest of her life. The warmth presented in her smile goes beyond a simple gesture. It has life and substantial meaning. Cohn is an outstanding actor and presents a persona and a character one loves to see in intimate theatre.
Casey Jones plays Mrs. Marden. In this production, she seems to be George’s sister although the relationship is ambiguous enough to be anyone’s guess. That aside, Jones does well as Mrs. Marden, a woman who appears to have money and power. In the original play, she is George Marden’s aunt, Lady Marden and she wields a kind of power that comes with the title. Truth be told, Jones is too young for the original version of the role. But in this version, she appears to be a wealthy New Englander wanting to rid herself of her pesky sister-in-law. Jones’ brings a lot of maniacal power to the role, in her beagling outfit, in the way she wants Olivia out of the picture.
Laura Lee Walsh presents an impressive figure as Ann/Narrator. She is very tall and has a wonderful voice. While there is not a lot of meat to the role of Ann, Walsh would do well to find a stronger objective and recognize conflict inherent in the role of the character.
Jeffrey Winner is Mr. Caraway Pim a man filled with so many mannerisms, it is difficult to determine to know what he wants. The mannerism, wonderful in construction, takes over the objective of the character. Relationships are the key to this character; his relationship to Dinah, to Anne, to Brian, Olivia, and George must be dramatically different for reasons known only to his being. The bottom line is his objective, how does he get it, and what gets in his way, the conflict.
Jacob Osborne will be playing Brian Strange from June 2nd through June 17th, 2018 but did not perform the night I was there.
There is little to fix with this production that Jules Aaron, the director, can fix. It mostly has to do with the relationships, the conflict, and the timing of what characters get what they want. And these are moments that define the changes in relationships, boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, outside relative/unexpected guest, those relationships need defining, and change must somehow be profound and creative. Through the course of this play – life-changing moments happen all of the time, and at inopportune moments – those moments must be realized.
Other members of the crew are as follows:
Michéle Young – Costume Designer
Ric Zimmerman – Lighting Designer
Gabrieal Griego – Sound Designer
Betsy Paull-Rick – Stage Manager
Richard Carner – Assistant Stage Manager
Susan Mermet – Assistant Director
Phillip Sokoloff – Public Relations
Run! And take someone who love A.A. Mile’s work.
RESERVATIONS: (310) 364-0535.
ONLINE TICKETING: www.theatre40.or