Frances Sternhagen in"The Old Lady Shows Her Medals"(Photo © Richard Termine)
Frances Sternhagen in
"The Old Lady Shows Her Medals"
(Photo © Richard Termine)
The Mint Theater Company has developed a well-earned reputation for rediscovering lost theatrical gems. Now, the company has plucked two small, rare diamonds from J.M. Barrie's jewel box. (His best-known dazzler, of course, is Peter Pan.) With the help of polished direction by Eleanor Reissa, the plays sparkle on the Mint's stage.

Presented under the umbrella title Echoes of the War, the two one-acts deal with the heightened need during wartime (World War I) for connections between children and parents -- even, in one instance, when that relationship has to be created out of whole cloth.

The first play, "The New World," involves a stiff-upper-lip father who is forced by his wife to talk to his son the night before he goes off to the war. Both father (Richard Easton) and son (Aaron Krohn) are comically, poignantly uncomfortable in each other's presence. In fits and starts, they find ways to talk to each other, keeping their English reserve intact while still managing to communicate their love. A touching piece, "The New World" swells with sentiment but does not cross the line into sentimentality. Easton is particularly wonderful; when, at one point, he makes a face to indicate his devilish pleasure at finally having a secret that his wife will never know, the moment is priceless.

The second play, "The Old Lady Shows Her Medals," reveals a woman (Frances Sternhagen) who pretends to have a son off at war in order to be accepted among the other proud mothers with whom she is friends. The piece takes off when a young Scottish soldier (Gareth Saxe) who shares the woman's last name is brought home to her by the local priest. Their mutual needs -- she for a son, he for a mother -- slowly bind them together. Both Sternhagen and Saxe give exquisite, moving performances in a play that, even more than the first, has a depth of feeling brought home by a silent epilogue that will break your heart.

You will certainly feel the resonance between Peter Pan and the two short plays that make up Echoes of the War. Issues of lost children and their parentage are right up front in all three works -- and isn't that fitting for plays about a war that created "The Lost Generation?"

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A Swing and a Miss

It takes a show like Chuckleball to make you fully appreciate the genius of Forbidden Broadway. Though both shows are spoofs -- one of baseball, the other of theater -- they are as far apart in quality as New Jersey tap water and vintage champagne.

The first act of Chuckleball is numbingly obvious and excruciatingly dull as each parody number seems to require the singer to identify the subject of the parody. If it's about Derek Jeter, he tells us that he's Derek Jeter; if it's about Tiger Woods, he says that he's Tiger Woods. Most of the individual numbers have one joke and no topper. There is nothing clever in the parody lyrics to surprise or delight us.

If the first act is a strikeout, the second act at least offers the occasional bunt single and a few clean hits -- but, mind you, no doubles or triples, and certainly no home runs. We don't want to mislead you with all of these baseball terms: This show at the Producers Club II touches on all sports, including professional wrestling, the Olympics, basketball, and soccer. Nonetheless, some of its best bits are about baseball, such as its swipes at the Mets and the Boston Red Sox. Here, at least, the lyrics take some clever turns and offer a touch of wit.

Three singing actors and a pianist carry this revue. Ian Nemser is, if you'll excuse the expression, a game performer. Jonathon Roufaeal has a fine voice but is too often over-miked, which makes his belting downright painful. Rick Younger is the most versatile and polished of the cast members. The problems of this show have nothing to do with the fellows on stage; rather, they emanate from writer-director Jason Goldstein. If the entire show were at the level of the second act, it would be passably mediocre. All in all, however, Chuckleball has far too few chuckles to get to first base.

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Peter Yawitz
Peter Yawitz
Keep Yawitz About You

Peter Yawitz is a lyricist with panache and a charming, smart performer. His current show at Don't Tell Mama, A New Man is the discovery of the summer.

For a raft of reasons, Yawitz's act is definitely worth seeing. Performers should see it to find new, sensational comedy songs; cabaretgoers should see it simply to be entertained. This well crafted show, skillfully directed by Helen Baldassare, marks Yawitz as a musical-comedy singer/songwriter with something to say and the talent to say it in song, on video, and in patter. Most of the program consists of songs for which he has written laugh-out-loud comic lyrics about contemporary themes to melodies by the likes of Dick Gallagher, David Friedman, Peter Lurye, and others. Yawitz also sings some standards, and he puts them over with feeling.

Unless he extends yet again, Yawitz has only two more shows left at Mama's: Monday, August 2 at 7pm and Tuesday, August 3 at 6:30pm.

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[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegels@theatermania.com.]