MR. PIM PASSES BY debuted on the stage in 1919, written by A.A. Milne (1882-1956) Although he will be known forever for his children’s literature as the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh, Milne also wrote numerous plays and screenplays, books of poetry, and seven novels. One of Los Angeles’ most honored directors, Jules Aaron, directs the new Theatre 40 production of this 99-year old drawing room comedy. And while the plot line may seem a bit simple with just a lot of talking and not much action taking place, Aaron’s often modern attitude blocking perks up the production thanks to the skill of his dedicated cast and production team.
This comedy for grown-ups tells a tale of mistaken identity and the lives it affects after a mysterious stranger pops up at a Woodbury, Connecticut home. It’s never explained why Mr. Pim is in the neighborhood, although it’s very apparent he does not live in the area nor is he visiting anyone else who does. And as the story builds, you might decide he is a character much like Clarence the Angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” there to simply make sure that love rules the day.
Portrayed brilliantly as well as comically by Jeffrey Winner, Mr. Pim is a doddering old man who has much trouble with names. When he just happens to drop by the Mardens home one afternoon and announces that the former husband of the lady of the house, thought to be deceased, is alive, could it be the well-respected Olivia Marden (Roslyn Cohn) is really a bigamist? And what about her current husband, George Marden (John Wallace Combs) who is so upset with the news that his 19-year old niece Dinah (Nathalie Rudolph) and her secret fiancé Brian Strange (Troy Whitaker) dare not hope to get his permission to marry.
Allowing us to follow the action in the Narrator Ann (Laura Lee Walsh) who adds in bits and pieces about each character along the way to better guide our understanding of the sometimes too-fast pace at the beginning of the play. This was especially true when we first met Dinah, as Rudolph rattled off her exposition, information-packed lines so quickly that understanding exactly what she was describing was way too difficult to follow had it not been for the Narrator’s guidance.
After intermission, Mr. Pim passes by again, confessing that he was confused and it is safe to assume that the lady’s first husband is dead, just as the married couple had originally believed when they wed. But if her first husband had been alive at the time she married George, then isn’t it true the couple must get legally married again now? Then things get interesting since without telling her husband, Olivia uses the knowledge to get what she wants – to force her husband to permit his niece to marry the young artist who loves her, or she will not marry him again. To make matters worse, she would even throw poor George out of his own house!
But, of course, this is a comedy and all things work out in the end. The fun is watching how the characters circle and taunt each other with information to get what they want. The best example of this is George’s mother Mrs. Marden (Casey Jones) who, dressed as if she just got off riding her horse although she does not own one, makes her points or gets attention by employing the riding crop always in her hands.
Technical credits are excellent as always with set designer Jeff G. Rack creating an invisible back wall, hanging large decorative items on it by hanging them from the ceiling, allowing us to see exactly who is coming or going through the patio double doors. Michele Young’s costume design includes touches of burgundy, pinks, and reds in every character’s costume other than the Narrator who only wears black and white. Ric Zimmerman’s lighting design creates colorful texture to scene backgrounds.