During World War I, James M. Barrie, the most tormentedly truthful of escapists, wrote Echoes of the War, a series of one-act trifles that edge, unnervingly, around the conflict and its hideous cost in corpses. The Mint, reviving two of them, has had the sense to cast lead actors who can give these semiprecious pebbles a diamond glow. Richard Easton, curtly blustery as a father sending his teenage son off to fight in France, husks the amusing corn of The New Word with a sure hand.
Then, in The Old Lady Shows Her Medals, something magical happens. Frances Sternhagen, as a gritty Scots charwoman whose lies about having a son at the front suddenly become cockeyed truths, steals every heart in the house, with the placid efficiency of a practiced dip lifting your wallet. The magic lies in her never seeming to do anything at all—you won’t know your heart’s gone till you feel the ache she’s left in its place. She gets especially able seconding from Gareth Saxe as her not-exactly son. Director Eleanor Reissa’s staging, a little unsteady in the first piece, is utterly sure in the second.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 13, 2004