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Echoes of the War

Presented by and at the Mint Theater Company, 311 W. 43 St., NYC, July 18-Aug. 29. Casting by Sharron Bower.

On April 26, a Mint Theater Company benefit showcased a triple bill of two plays by J.M. Barrie and one by A.A. Milne. The standout, by far, was Barrie's "The Old Lady Shows Her Medals," a sentimental warhorse with heart-catching performances by Frances Sternhagen and Gareth Saxe. Short though it was, it cried out for a full production, and here it is, now with costumes (Debra Stein) and set (Vicki R. Davis).

During World War I, a Scottish soldier shows up on the doorstep of the sly London charwoman who's pretended to her cronies that she, too, has a son in the war, and that it is he. (In fact, she simply picked his name out of the newspaper.) He gradually melts under her wily and tender ministrations.

Both Frances Sternhagen and Gareth Saxe have returned for the production. She is quite adorable without overdoing it, while he is suitably proud and guarded, and his transformation into a loving "son" believable. Kathrine McGrath, Pat Nesbit, and Mary Ellen Ashley are delightful as the three charwomen.

Unfortunately, its companion piece, "The New Word," seems inconsequential indeed. Originally performed with "The Old Lady" in 1917, it tells of a middle-class family whose son is about to go off to war. Father and son are too reserved to admit the extent of their mutual affection. In spite of the estimable Richard Easton as the father, and an okay performance by Aaron Krohn as the son, the expected poignancy is somehow missing. Anne-Marie Cusson and Jenny Strassburg round out the cast.

Davis' comfortable middle-class set for "Word" adapts admirably to the charwoman's abode. Traci Klainer's lighting and Bruce Ellman's sound are fine.

Eleanor Reissa directs this material with sensitivity to the period. Still, though "The Old Lady" indeed earns her medals, "The New Word," interesting from a historical perspective, would perhaps have been better left unspoken.

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