Review: An Old Gem is Unearthed by the Mint Theatre
By Miles Harter, Contributing Writer, January 30, 2017
The Mint Theatre Company’s mission is finding vintage scripts and presenting them to new audiences. Their latest gem is the world premiere of Yours Unfaithfully, a stage comedy by Miles Malleson written in 1933. Given the witty dialogue and entertaining explorations of marriage, it’s surprising the play has never been produced. Besides his success as an English playwright, the versatile Malleson was a screenwriter of historical dramas (most notably Victoria the Great), a director and a producer, as well as a widely celebrated character actor (he can be seen in the Hitchcock classic, Stage Fright). We can now thank the Mint for bringing this heretofore hidden treasure to us.
Since the play is from 1933, you might assume “Unfaithfully” in the title signified some kind of innocent flirtation or tentative affair. But the play is full of surprises—the main one centering both comically and seriously on the concept of a married couple’s open relationship. (This is not a spoiler — this information is presented within the first five minutes of the play.)
The first act opens on a charming and elegant living room (perhaps, a “drawing room,” in the 1930s), where the principal characters, Stephen and Anne Meredith, are hosting a cocktail hour for two old friends, Diana Streatfield, recently widowed, and Alan Kirby, a doctor. Stephen’s a writer, in addition to running a school with his wife, Anne; they have been married for nearly 10 years, and have two children. During some deliciously awkward moments, we learn that Stephen and Anne are in a completely consensual open marriage. Anne even thinks aloud that Stephen has a kind of writer’s block that could be resolved by him having an affair. Malleson further explores the actions and reactions of the four characters, and while they may not always be quite sure as to how they feel, the characters recognize the dissonances of relationships. At one point, Alan wisely verbalizes that there is a marked distinction between what one thinks and what one feels.
The performances are superb. Max von Essen is splendid as Stephen, aptly portraying his doubts, delight, and anguish about his freedom over the course of approximately two months. The graceful Elisabeth Gray’s acting and facial expressions are particularly exquisite, trying to sort out her wavering emotions. Mikaela Izquierdo as the grieving, and slightly lost widow Diana, is splendid. Todd Cerveris’s Alan, the kindly and sympathetic friend with a surprising connection to Stephen and Diana, is impeccable. The fifth member of the ensemble, Stephen Schnetzer, plays the Reverend Canon Gordon Meredith, Stephen’s father. He perfectly delivers the sometimes harsh lines summarizing arguments with his son, and we come to realize that not much has changed about father-son relationships since 1933.
Upon entering the small Beckett Theatre, the set is in full view and we are transported back to the 1930s, complete with all the period details, including vintage tables and lamps. The show’s other set is a small apartment that Stephen and Anne use occasionally “in town” (presumably, London). The scenery has been meticulously and impeccably designed by Carolyn Mraz. The music, by Jane Shaw, is alternately and appropriately haunting or cheerful, evoking a feeling of the 1930s.
One undeveloped plot point is that we find out early on that Stephen and Anne have two children, but oddly they are never referred to again, or how this situation would influence their actions, deeds, or seeming freedon to travel. Also, there is no apparent reason to have two intermissions when the production’s running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes. The first and second acts transpire in the same room and nothing seems to change, except for the passage of time which could be explained by taking a short pause, but a full intermission seemed unnecessary. While this may have made the evening longer than necessary, it was still a good night in the theatre.
Yours Unfaithfully, presented by Mint Theater Company at The Beckett Theatre, Theatre Row, 410 42nd Street, through Saturday, February 18, 2017. By Miles Malleson. Directed by Jonathan Bank; scenic design by Carolyn Mraz; costume design by Hunter Kaczorowski; lighting design by Xavier Pierce; sound and original music by Jane Shaw. Cast: Todd Cerveris, Elisabeth Gray, Mikaela Izquierdo, Stephen Schnetzer, and Max von Essen.
Cover: Max von Essen and Mikaela Izquierdo in ‘Yours Unfaithfully;’ photo: Richard Termine.