Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Max von Essen, Mikaela Izquierdo in Yours Unfaithfully. (Photo by Richard Termine)
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Open marriage was TV talk show fare in the 1960's and '70's but the topic certainly wasn't new. The idea has long been discussed, written about and even staged. Yours Unfaithfully, a droll examination of an iconoclastic British couple and their progressive marital experiments, was written in 1933 by actor/playwright Miles Malleson and is now making its world premiere at the Mint Theater. How one couple faces their emotions and reactions when they open the marriage doors to others is an insightful and witty exploration of love, sex and family.
Stephen and Anne have been contented in their marriage for eight years, each agreeing to an occasional liaison to perk things up. Living outside London, they have two children (never seen) and run a progressive school. Stephen grew up struggling against his father, Rev. Canon Gordon Meredith (Stephen Schnetzer), and rejecting his firm conventional ideas about morality. This has led to tensions between father and son with ethics, but also sports and work, shown clearly in the few scenes they share. Stephen explains, "I’m certain he’s wrong. I’m not certain I’m right".
It's not surprising when Stephen (Max von Essen) suffers writer's block, can't work and becomes insufferably moody, that Anne (Elisabeth Gray) tells him to spend a few days in their London flat and get into mischief. “Any sort of mischief! I shouldn’t mind what you do, as long as you get happy again, and start working. that’s the most important thing for both of us....” She even suggests a beautiful friend he might dally with, Diana Streatfield (Mikaela Izquierdo), who is getting over the death of her husband but shows a willingness to have a go with the handsome Stephen.
Seems okay with Stephen too, but it is it really? As he goes on to enjoy his philandering with Diana, Anne starts to believe that nothing seems as appropriate as it should. She shares her uneasy qualms with an former lover of her own, Dr. Alan Kirby (Todd Cerveris).
Director Jonathan Bank presents the characters with distinction, displaying their varied, often confusing, feelings. Von Essen and Gray share believable chemistry and Gray shows how Anne, who is now struggling with the idea of open marriage, gains assurance with an illuminating plan to straighten out all this marital turmoil. Stephen's head-in-the-clouds slowly begins to clear toward the end, gaining him some perception. As Diana, Izquierdo lends her subtle flirtation, easily accepting the correctness of her affair with a married man. The ending does not deliver a definite answer to the central question of matrimonial enlightenment.
The conventional aspect of the play insinuates itself beautifully in the production values. Carolyn Mraz's set displays the country home's disorganized comfort while the London flat is just functional. Outstanding are Hunter Kaczorowski's period-perfect clothing for the characters. While Anne is dressed casually for the countryside, when she hits the London flat she gets glammed up with flair and attitude. Hair, wigs and makeup by John Jared Janas all add to the 1930's traditional upper middle-class look.
Even in the 1930's, Malleson's own experiences with three marriages prove he has some knowledge of open marriage and he presents it provocatively with a light wit that bends toward disappointment. Interestingly, when the pay-off comes, after a talky two acts and two intermissions, it is fuzzy. The lack of a conventional happy ending, however, lends persuasiveness and Von Essen and Gray's enlightened performances make it fun to watch.
Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row
410 West 42th Street, NYC
Previewed: Dec. 27, 2016. Opening: Jan. 26, 2017. Closing: Feb. 18, 2017
Mint Theater Company
Written by: Miles Malleson
Directed by: Jonathan Bank
Running time: Two hours. 15 minutes. Two intermissions. Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors, January 21, 2017
This review can also be seen on TotalTheater.com