It's comforting to realize that finding love in New York has always been a struggle. Such is the main charm of "Walking Down Broadway," a pleasant little play presented by the Mint Theater Company, which is dedicated to producing neglected works.
Dawn Powell, who was also a novelist and short-story writer, wrote "Walking Down Broadway" in 1931 based on her experience of moving to New York from Ohio. Strangely enough, the Mint's production is a world premiere; the play has never been produced, though Fox bought the movie rights and adapted it to make the Erich von Stroheim film "Hello, Sister."
When the play begins, Marge and Elsie, friends who eight months earlier made the same move Powell did, have finally managed to meet a couple of guys. While the flighty Elsie and dapper Dewey don't quite click, Marge and Chick are both kind-hearted, small-town souls who at first appear to be made for each other.
Their relationship is disrupted by unfortunate developments, however, including the meddling of their respective neighbors - Eva, an aging blonde bombshell, and Mac, a conniving womanizer - whose New York cynicism rubs off on their less experienced proteges.
The premise is bound to remind theatergoers of the 1940 play "My Sister Eileen" and its 1953 musical version, "Wonderful Town," based on stories by Ruth McKenney, another Ohioan. Shy Marge doesn't have the quick wit of her "Wonderful Town" equivalent, Ruth (played by Donna Murphy in the recent Broadway revival), and you won't see her doing the conga with a pack of sailors. But there's an appeal to Marge's quiet earnestness, especially as performed by Christine Albright.
Many of the details are period-specific. Walking up and down Broadway on the Upper West Side is no longer a popular pickup strategy. The dialogue is peppered with words like "swell" and "fella," and the audience laughs when Mac brags that his wine "costs $4 a gallon." Still, Steven Williford's meticulous direction and his game cast make the setting feel fresh and alive. Some scenes are overwritten, but the 2 1/2 hours (including two intermissions) go by surprisingly quickly.
The play turns out to be less naive than its age would let on. It deals with women's concerns in a way that was probably ahead of its time. The personality types here are also very familiar. The differences between cads and dads, and their female equivalents - "pickups" and "nice girls," as Chick calls them - still ring true. Ditto the central paradox of single life in New York City: With so many people out there, why am I so lonely?
Granted, since 1931, such themes have been dealt with time and again in film, theater and television, and today's writers have had to up the ante. Neil LaBute's chauvinists, for example, are far scarier than Mac.
But the time lapse has its benefits. For older theatergoers, "Walking" will be a trip down memory lane. For younger ones, the play might comfort them with the knowledge that their parents and grandparents had the same problems finding a mate that they have now.
Zachary Pincus-Roth is a freelance writer.
WALKING DOWN BROADWAY. By Dawn Powell. Directed by Steven Williford. The Mint Theater, 311 W. 43rd St., third floor. Tickets $45. Call 212-315-0231, or visit www.mint theater.org.