This spring Martha Gellhorn is enjoying a resurgence. Nicole Kidman did a fantastic job portraying her in HBO’s “Hemingway & Gellhorn.” Now the play, “Love Saves the Day,” which Gellhorn co-wrote with Virginia Cowles, opens tonight (June 18).
Gellhorn (1908-1998) should never have gone away, prompting a resurgence. She is that important, yet it’s not surprising most people don’t know who she was. Yes, she was Hemingway’s third wife, and hated being defined as such. Gellhorn was a fearless war correspondent, novelist and activist/journalist.
She had stowed away on a French hospital ship so she could be at the Normandy invasion. She scooped most, including her famous ex-husband. Gellhorn was brilliant and compassionate; I won’t bother trying to hide my respect and admiration.
So I went into the Mint Theater rooting for this, and the reliably interesting theater company, housed just off Broadway, upstairs in an old building, does not disappoint.
“Love Saves the Day” is a 1946 screwball comedy based on the writers’ lives as war correspondents. It’s funny and raises questions about equality and assumed roles.
The men in the play, Gellhorn had said, were fictional. Yet they ring true of the sort of men who became reporters, and have the swagger that comes with being war correspondents.
In this, Annabelle Jones and Jane Mason (Heidi Armbruster, “30 Rock” and Angela Pierce, “Private Practice”) are intrepid correspondents aware that their good looks sway men. They’re old pals who run into each other in Italy. World travelers, they follow the wars, always getting the stories and sometimes falling in love. They compare notes about being told women can’t do what they do so well.
“And considering the number of times we couldn’t even get out of a car when a shelling started because the men pinned us down with their elbows while they stepped over us,” Annabelle says. “It makes me sick with rage. Darling, your hair’s wonderful cut short like that.”
They are supposedly under the watch of the PR, the public relations officer Major Philip Brooke-Jervaux (Bradford Cover, “The Good Wife”). Men who had worked with them, Tex Crowder (the stand-out Jay Patterson, “Blue Bloods”) and Hank O’Reilly (Curzon Dobell, “John Adams”) admire them and know Jane and Annabelle will get the story — any story that matters.
The world-weary reporters and are captured perfectly. There’s a stuffy UK correspondent, Leonard Lightfoot (David Graham Jones) whose diligence irks the Americans. Leonard complains about the press camp, and Hank questions what’s wrong with the camp.
“Aside from the food and the lack of liquor and the cold and the plumbing and the transport and the telephone and the dispatch riders and the other correspondents,” Tex says.
Of course romance gets in the way. Of course the men try to control Annabelle and Jane. Though this takes place during World War II, these women are not about to be controlled even if they do occasionally trip into the pitfalls of matrimony, a mistake for women who need independence as much as they need oxygen.
Frequent shelling rattles the town around them and though the PR is determined to keep them safe, which means miserably far from the action, he stands no chance of corralling them and even less of controlling Jane. They’re bound to fall in love, given how much they instantly hate each other.
Annabelle’s snake of an ex-husband, Joe Rogers (Rob Breckenridge, “Royal Pains”), steals stories from her. There may be some lower form of life known to journalists but scientists dealing in single-cell organisms are yet to find it. The sexual attraction between Annabelle and Joe — thinly veiled takes on Gellhorn and Hemingway — can’t be denied
Meanwhile Joe has found a new lover, a shallow and pretty British actress. Annabelle has men pretty much crumple at the sight of the leggy blonde who makes World War II woolen uniforms sexy. Complications of the heart are inevitable.
Everyone winds up in the former living room of a partially bombed Italian house, and naturally everyone is bound to run into everyone else again. The world may seem huge but these characters prove that war makes it smaller, and excellent writing make this timeless.