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Milne at the Mint: The Truth About the Blayds & Mr. Pim Passes By
Surely the truth is an end in itself. The only end. Call it Truth or call it Beauty, it's all we're here for.
---Isobel in The Truth About the Blayds, explaining why she feels that she must tell the truth about the authorship of the works that made her father a legend among poetry lovers and scholars.

What seems wrong to me is that I lived for five years with a bad man whom I hated. What seems right to me is that I lived for five years with a good man whom I love. ---Olivia in Mr. Pim Passes By after Mr. Pim in the course of "passing by" has inadvertently made her and the husband she loves aware that their marriage may not be legal.
 Lisa Bostnar & Stephen Schnetze
Lisa Bostnar & Stephen Schnetzer
(Photo: Richard Termine)
Isobel is an intense woman past the first flush of youth when a deathbed revelation makes her realize that the father deemed as the last surviving Great Poet of the Victorian era was unworthy of her relinquishing love and marriage to take care of him. Olivia, on the other hand, has been married twice, but only happily so once. She too is confronted with dealing with Mr. Pim's unsettling revelation that she may be married to both spouses.

The soft-spoken, love-deprived Isobel is the pivotal character The Truth About the Blayds. The charming and unflappable Olivia deals with the crisis at the heart of Mr. Pim Passes By to everyone's satisfaction and amusement. Both plays are by A{lan} A{lexander} Milne (1882 - 1956) -- yes, that's the same Milne who wrote the famous Pooh stories and stick-to-the-memory verses like "When We Were Six " but, unbeknownst to most people, wrote these and twenty-three other plays, as well as novels, essays and short stories.

Thanks to the Mint Theater's intrepid theatrical antiques restorer, Jonathan Bank, both Isobel and Olivia, who were last brought to life on a New York stage in the 1920s have been given new life at the Mint's fifth floor venue. Actually Mr. Pim Passes By, Milne's best known play, is a Mint revival, having enjoyed considerable success during the 1996 season.

What makes this new minting a special treat is that Mr. Pim Passes By is now playing in repertory with The Truth About the Blayds with the lovely Lisa Bostnar portraying both Isobel and Olivia. Each play is a free-standing entity with completely different plots so that you can see and enjoy either one without the other. Both are essentially drawing room comedies turning on a problem that pokes gently satirical fun at issues of morality and love.

Pim is the more whimsical, Pooh-ish of the two and in the hands of another writer could easily have turned from frothy to forbiddingly grim tragedy, à la Ibsen's Doll's House. Its humor derives from the Marden family's reaction to the virtual bombshell the bumbling Mr. Pim sets off in the course of "passing by" to ask for a letter of introduction to one of the lord of the manor's business associates.

In Blayds not only Isobel, but her older sister, brother-in-law, nephew and niece, have spent years catering to the needs of their internationally revered paterfamilias. The Ibsen parallel that comes to mind here is Wild Duck but, though somewhat more serious, Blayds is again more gently comic than tragic. It too throws the people wandering in and out of its drawing room into a tizzy -- this time after the old poet's funeral and Isobel's revelation of the shocking secret her father whispered in her ear just before his death and the first act curtain.

While there's an undisputedly dated aura overhanging the plays' leisurely, discussions building up to their central problem, Jonathan Bank has staged both plays with his usual wit and appreciation for their nostalgic charm. If faced with a choice of seeing one rather than both, I'd opt for Pim which is frothier, funnier and less weighed down by first act exposition. However, if you can find the time to see both, do it.

The in-tandem scheduling affords a rare opportunity to see the same actors (with the exception of Jack Ryland, whose Oliver Blayds has no counterpart in Pim) perform in both, capturing the nuances which differentiate the Pim and Blayds characters. Thus, besides Bothnar's shift from the serious and somewhat sad Isobel to the quietly self-assured Olivia, we see the rest of the cast as members of two very English families -- the London Blayds living in the shadow of a great man, and the Mardens living the comfortable country life of the conservative gentry.

Jack Davidson, the old poet's self-important son-in-law who's and ready to rationalize sweeping "the truth about the Blayds" under the rug has a grand time as the delightfully befuddled Mr. Pim. As his fluttery wife, Kristin Griffith is a cross between Spring Byington and Billie Burke from the black and white B-movie era, but turns imperious and horsy as George Marden's titled aunt. Stephen Schnetzer's George is so stuffy and resistant to new ideas -- be it curtains or art-- that you'd dislike him if he didn't make you see him as a man worthy of Olivia's love. Victoria Mack and James Knight get to represent the younger, eager for change generation in each play, though they are more endearing as young lovers than the Victorian style Yuppie Blayds grandchildren.

To add to the pleasure of this double serving of Milne, Mr. Bank and his set designer, Sarah Lambert have cleverly used the same set, with only slight adjustments. The Blayds set has a windowless wall on which to hang an imposing portrait of the poet when he was still in his prime. In Pim, that wall is replaced by French doors leading out at a sun-drenched garden which leads to the pigs that justify Marden's status as a gentleman farmer.

Mr. Bank's devotion to Milne as a playwright notwithstanding, neither of these rare revivals is likely to upstage the greater popularity of Pooh Bear and Piglet or G.B. Shaw's drawing room and country house dramas. Nevertheless, and especially in this repertory setup, the Mint has succeeded once again in breathing new life into works that would otherwise languish in the theatrical dustbin.

Milne at the Mint also makes for a pleasant respite from the no-holds barred modern theater in which no expletive is ever deleted. Can you imagine what George Marden, who stutters when he has to say "sin", would say if he heard Frank Langella's Tobi in the just opened Match freely discussing oral sex. And aren't Dinah and Brian, who hardly dare to kiss and hold hands, a refreshing change from bar and internet pickups -- at least for a couple of hours?

Written by A.A. Milne
Directed by Jonathan Bank Set Design: Sarah Lambert
Costume Design: Theresa Squire
Lighting Design: Mark T. Simpson
Sound Design: Jack Coseglia
Dialects: Amy Stoller
Hair and Wigs: Broadway Wig Company
Mint Theater Company, 311 West 43rd Street, (8/9 Aves --5th floor) 212/315-0231
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one intermission
Check the Mint website -- --for the repertory schedule

Cast: Lisa Bostnar/Isobel (Blayds' younger daughter); Jack Davidson/William Blayds-Conway (Blayds' son-in-law); Kristin Griffith/Marion Blayds-Conway (Blayds' older daughter); Katie Lowes/Parsons; James Knight/Oliver Blayds-Conway (Blayds' grandson); Victoria Mack (Blayds' granddaughter); Stephen Schnetzer/A. L. Royce; Jack Ryland/Oliver Blayds
3/02/04 to 5/14/04; opening 4/14/04
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 3/25/04 press preview
Cast: Lisa Bostnar/Olivia; Jack Davidson/Carraway Pim; Kristin Griffith/Lady Marden; Katie Lowes/Anne; James Knight/Brian Strange; Victoria Mack Dinah; Stephen Schnetzer/George Marden, J.P.
3/31/04 to 5/14/04; opening 4/14/04
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 4/14/04 press performance

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