Review: Yours Unfaithfully

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Review: <i>Yours Unfaithfully</i>

The Mint Theater Company has been unearthing forgotten gems from the great canon of western drama for over the last two decades, producing intimate meticulously staged productions of plays scholars and critics have forgotten about. Seeing even a mediocre show provides the thrill of an archeological dig.

Miles Malleson was a successful playwright and screenwriter in England in the early-to-mid twentieth century and even appeared in Alfred Hitchcock films like Stage Fright in 1950 but his play from 1933, Yours Unfaithfully, was never produced. There’s a line towards the end of it in Mint’s world premiere production directed by artistic director Jonathan Bank that hints at the why: “Your man would be getting more out of life than anyone is properly supposed to. No, there’s got to be tragedy in your book! …or, better, if in the last chapter you came to see the folly of your ways; then you might sell the rights of it for an immense sum to the talkies.”

The subject of Malleson’s heartfelt comedy is what we now call ethical non-monogamy, and the person delivering those lines is Dr. Alan Kirby (Todd Cerveris), the best friend of the protagonist Stephen Meredith (Max Von Essen), a writer much like Malleson. Kirby had an affair with Stephen’s wife, Anne (Elisabeth Gray), years ago and they have all remained friends. We don’t see lives ruined, just characters imperfectly stumbling towards fulfillment.

Like in many other plays of a certain age, Henrik Ibsen’s masterpieces come to mind, there’s a lot of exposition to wade through to get to the meaty core. Much of the first act is weighed down in the kind of backstory where characters tell each other lots information they already know for no greater purpose than to clue us in. Stephen’s father is a father of the black robe variety (played with zest by Stephen Schnetzer) and gives Mallerson an outlet for his thoughts on religion and the folly of puritanical thinking. It’s better though when we get a richer peer into Stephen and Anne’s marriage.

There is occasional jealousy that threatens to strain the marital bliss along with the complication of feelings that sprout from Stephen’s new tryst with Anne’s friend, Diana Streatfield (Mikaela Izquierdo), but the people involved are constantly aware of each other’s feelings. When Anne lets Stephen pursue Diana, he tells her that her act of generosity deepens his love for her, and he isn’t lying. They first opened their relationship because he was concerned that she might be missing out on sexual experiences. Like many women of her time, Anne was a virgin on her wedding night.

Virtue has long been tied to monogamy and is only in recent years being slowly pried free, ignited by the close examination of what each person in a relationship wants and needs. Malleson has a keen ear for dialogue that articulates these desires in a way that never trivializes them which feels light years ahead of his time. The title refers to Anne’s sign-off in letters to her husband, and at first glance appears to be a flippant riff on the formality of salutations. As we spend time with this couple, vividly brought to life by von Essen and Gray’s well-worn yet fiery chemistry, it is evident that they belong to each other. This bond doesn’t require monogamy; it’s built on stronger stuff.

Written by: Miles Malleson
Directed by: Jonathan Bank
Starring: Todd Cerveris, Elisabeth Gray, Mikaela Izquierdo, Stephen Schnetzer and Max von Essen
Through: February 18 with the Mint Theater Company

Christopher Kompanek is a New York-based arts and culture writer. His theater features and reviews have appeared in American Theatre Magazine, Time Out New York, the Washington Post, and the Village Voice.