A. A. Milne was far more than the author of Winnie-the-Pooh and all the other beloved characters based on the toys of his young son, Christopher Robin. He also wrote poetry, magazine articles, political pieces, novels and plays. Shortly after mustering out of the British Army in 1919, he wrote the drawing room comedy, Mr. Pim Passes By, which had successful runs in London and on Broadway.
Mr. Pim Passes By is an amiable piece of fluff peopled with amusing stock characters and contrived situations. In the Theatre 40 production, the play has shifted from its original Buckinghamshire locale to Woodbury, Connecticut in the unspecified modern era. The entire action takes place in the commodious living room of George and Olivia Marden, well-to-do country folk in their forties. George (John Wallace Combs) is an affable type who spends a lot of time out with the pigs, while Olivia (Roslyn Cohn) makes a set of curtains with a modern pattern that offends George’s conservative tastes. He believes that what was good enough for his forebears is good enough for him. He is a rock-ribbed conservative, but not of the bomb-throwing, contemporary type. Call him a Rockefeller conservative, a type now thoroughly lost in history.
The Mardens are the guardians of their young niece, nineteen-year-old Dinah (charming ingénue Nathalie Rudolph), who has fallen in love and wants to marry Brian Strange (delightfully earnest Troy Whitaker), an artist of the modern type—think Picasso or Kandinsky— and a socialist to boot. This does not set well with George who forbids the engagement. An older relative, Aunt Julia (Casey Jones), garbed in riding clothes and carrying a crop, which she uses for emphasis, is utterly scandalized by the young people’s urgent desire. Ann, the cheerful housemaid (Laura Lee Walsh), begins and ends the show, introducing characters in between and commenting on the action from time to time, much as the Stage Manager does in Our Town.
And then there is the Mr. Pim of the title, who does indeed pass by from time to time stopping in at first to get a letter of introduction from George, and later to inadvertently confuse the action with garbled information that sets the entire household in an uproar. It is entirely appropriate that Pim, as played with wide-eyed innocence and impeccable timing by Jeffrey Winner, is the instrument of comic confusion.
The production benefits from the excellent scenic design of Jeff G. Rack, who creates a drawing room that could be a set in 1919 or 2018. Michèle Young’s costume design supports character and action and I especially appreciated the coordination of colors between the two designers. Ric Zimmerman’s lighting design is appropriately transparent and Gabrieal Griego’s sound design, with a playlist of jazz versions of the American Song Book, is swell and had some members of the audience quietly humming or singing along.
Under the direction of Jules Aaron, the show strives for a modern pace, but the script is leisurely and may try the patience of a modern audience. Myself? I giggled quite a lot throughout, but never got to guffaw. And though the play is an antique, I am very glad to have seen it.
Mr. Pim Passes By, produced by David Hunt Stafford, runs through June 17 at Theatre 40, in the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills.