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Yours Unfaithfully

Max von Essen and Mikaela Izquierdo


                            By David Schultz

Hard to fathom that this mildly diverting play penned in 1933 has never seen the light of day…until now that is. The highly regarded Mint Theater has dusted off this faded jewel and spiffed it up for a new century. On paper at least, the themes and issues discussed seem rather shocking from the standpoint of this long-ago era. Though in retrospect Noel Coward surely gave his own take on marital discord in Design for Living, with much greater skill and verbal dexterity. The idea of an open marriage seems rather newish to most people in this day and age…. or at the very least a very 1960’s concept. But playwright Miles Malleson, taking a page or two from his own experimental open marriage, took the bull by the horns and turned his naughty meanderings into art.

Mikaela Izquierdo, Elisabeth Gray, and Max von Essen             Photos: Richard Termine.

Stephen and Anne Meredith (Max Von Essen, Elisabeth Gray) have been married for eight years. The couple has two young children, never seen in the production, and rarely discussed. Proper, yet semi avant-garde, paintings decorate their home, with a pea green sofa on bold display, the home is well appointed with perfectly captured 1930’s panache. The French doors open to a garden outside. Set designer Carolyn Mraz gets extra points for the accurate setting. Costume designer Hunter Kaczorowski wraps the ensemble in perfected appropriate 1930’s garb. The women in particular seem quite glamorous, with their finger waved hair flowing in graceful well-appointed coiffed styles. The English couple are playing host to two dear friends…a young attractive widow Diana Streatfield (Mikaela Izquierdo) and Dr. Alan Kirby (Todd Cerveris). Stephen and Anne seem a perfect couple in every way…on the surface at least. Stephen, a writer, is in an emotional funk, and has a case of writer’s block. Anne sensing his unease, comes up with a bold and unusual cure for her husband…why not have a dalliance with Diana? It might change his mood. Stephen initially balks at the thought of such a thing. But with careful prodding from his wife…”Go 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”.

So with this grandiose invitation we are off and running. Playwright Malleson has quite a lot on his mind, as this three-act play slowly clicks into gear and the machinery is set into motion. Perhaps the idea that this au courant couple who run a progressive school has something to do with this daring idea…or perhaps Stephen’s conflicted relationship with his father, the Reverend Cannon Gordon Meredith (Stephen Schnetzer) whose ultra conservative views are in direct contrast with his son’s bohemian mindset are part of the impetus for this marital experiment. Whatever the case may be, the first act drags on with verbose dialogue that attempts to be be witty. There are some amusing moments sprinkled throughout this first act. But it may be director Jonathan Bank’s intent to give this work a British stiff upper lip sort of vibe…but the mannered performances in the first act seem overly stiff and unnatural. The complete lack of English accents doesn’t help the matter…though an occasional passable hint of an accent slips in on a rare occasion, only to vanish as fast as it appeared. It seems that the entire play will be performed in a clipped two-dimensional manner.

Max von Essen and Stephen Schnetzer

The Second Act opens in the same location, in their tastefully appointed country home, two months later. It’s no surprise that time has elapsed with dangerous feelings rising to the surface. Now, with many evenings spent in Diana’s arms, Stephen has regained his mojo and is invigorated. The full impact of what Anne thought would be a short dalliance, has bloomed into a monster, with all the jealousy that can ensue. Being English and oh so proper, it takes a long time for this couple to finally open s their feelings. An interesting twist is revealed….Anne had a dalliance and had an affair years ago, that seemed to fulfill her needs. So what’s good for the goose…. you know the rest. Anne and Diana have a teatime meeting and finally discuss the problems inherent to opening this veritable Pandora’s box. The provocative ideas that this play engenders are potent, but the tentative, carefully enunciated emotions work in direct contrast to the white-hot heat passion that this couple obviously has for each other. 

The Third Act takes place in a room, out of town that Stephen and Anne keep for occasional use. Ten days have elapsed and this couple has gotten used to their new ‘arrangement’.  Mr. von Essen and Ms. Gray have been transformed…. the performance style is more relaxed and organic…. gone is the overly arch, clipped stiffness of the earlier scenes. These two are now fully formed creatures, with a newly seen gravitas that was sorely lacking earlier in the evening. With skillful finely delineated black out scenes we observe Stephen waiting for his wife to return to their room…. he himself returning from a brief sojourn with Diana to Paris has been cut short and waits and waits…. to no avail for his wife to return. Anne returns early the next morning, with her own sensual mischief of the previous night. The completely wordless black –out montage of Stephen waiting in vain all night for his wife, and finally coming to terms with his marital situation is achingly observed. They both reach an unspoken agreement on where to go next in their marriage as the play reaches its conclusion. The very bold dénouement leaves the audience in limbo and dares to not tie it all up into a happy or sad ending…. and leaves this couple in uncharted territory, together again…perhaps.      

The Mint Theater Company
At the Beckett Theater at Theater Row

Running Time 2 hours 15 minutes.