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Yours Unfaithfully

it's a funny business, trying to live effectively... it's rather like walking along a knife-edge, a kind of crest, a high ridge between two slopes—a great slope of complacence on one side; and if you slip down you may find happiness, but a kind of feather-bed happiness, that smothers; and, if you slip down on the other side, rather a mess-up of promiscuity where there's no tranquility at all. The knife-edge seems the only really satisfactory place —only you want such a lot of balance all the time, to stop there!
— Stephen who as Anne points out, found himself slipping "down very much on the feather-bed side.
van essen
Max von Essen and Elisabeth Gray (Richard Termine
Never heard of Miles Malleson? You're not alone. But, of course, that's an open sesame for theatrical archeologist and Mint Theater's artistic director Jonathan Bank to introduce you to this British playwright's work. His doing so with Malleson's published but never produced Unfaitfully Yours makes this latest Mint production a much delayed world premiere.

Unfaithfully Yours is justly billed as an "un-romantic comedy" since it does reveal the dark emotional undercurrents in Anne and Stephen Meredith's seemingly blissful marriage. The way their belief that "a marriage ring ought to be strong enough to stand occasional other little circles hooked on to it" involves a romantic triangle prompted by desperate neediness all around. What's more, neither Malleson or Mr. Bank have relied on the happy ending that was associated with typical 1930s (and even later) drawing room comedies.

As clarified in the Mint's always enlightening program notes, Unfaithfully Yours is very much an example of a writer being well advised to write about what he knows. Malleson certainly knew what an open marriage was like: His first marriage broke up not because of his wife's many affairs — most famously with Bertrand Russell — but because she didn't want children. It was Russell's progressive school attended by the children of Malleson and his second wife. His difficulties with open marriage finally surfaced during his third marriage. Even cricket's influence on the love-hate bond between father and son in Unfaithfully Yours stems from Malleson's own history of striving for a coveted award known as a cricket blue.

Given the playwright's personal history with the themes explored Unfaithfully Yours conflates Malleson's own experience with open marriage into one 3-act play. It begins eight years into the marriage of Anne and Stephen Meredith (Elizabeth Gray and Max von Essen). They're still living up to their reputations as the most successfully married among their socially progressive friends.

The couple's comfortably affluent life style is apparently supported by Anne's success as founder and head mistress of a school — probably a boarding school which would account for where the Merediths' two unseen children are. (The children's existence did, however, strike me as warranting more than one brief mention in an otherwise meaningful talk filled play).

The school was born as a means to relieve Stephen from doing "pot-boil" reviewing for cheap papers and things" instead of continuing to work on his own books. But even though the "pot-boiling" is no longer needed to maintain their country home/London pied-a-terre life style, Stephen has not resumed his more serious and prestigious work.

It is Stephen's being in a constant state of distress and failure to write another book that causes Anne to come up with a plan to change this situation. It's a cure for writer's block you're not likely to find in any article or book of advice to stymied writers. What the plan entails is that they activate their open marriage arrangement. As Anne sees it Stephen will regain his joy and creative spark through an affair with their recently widowed friend Diana Streatfield (Mikaela Izquerdo) who happens to be visiting their country home. A sounding board for Anne who conveniently pops up throughout the three acts is family friend (actually a bit more than that) Dr. Alan Kirby (Todd Ceveris).

While Diana and Alan are invited guests in that first scene, Stephen's father, the Reverend Canon Gordon Meredith (Stephen Schnetzer), has arrived uninvited. His presence and its effect on Stephen reveals that the topics of Stephen's books as well as the open marriage are rooted in a tangled father-son relationship. (Stephen and the Reverend Canon's may well bring to mind the much more painful effect one-upmanship actions of present-day sons have had on whole nations rather than just one family).

The way Anne's plan materializes and its effect on her equilibrium as well as Stephen's is hardly surprising. And though open marriage continues to have its yea and naysayers, it's all a tad passé given the many current departures from traditional man-woman monogamous relationships. Nevertheless it does all add up to an engaging two hours thanks to the often witty dialogue and the generally fine performances Mr. Bank has elicited from the actors.

Max van Essen who I know mainly as a Broadway musical theater star (most recently in American In Paris) manages to convincingly convey Stephen's very gradual insightfulness. Elisabeth Gray captures the female's more natural inclination to sublimate her true feelings in a situation like this. Mikaela Izquierdo and Todd Ceveris give suitably understated performances as Diana and Alan. Stephen Schnetzer ably took over for the previously cast Reverend Canon. While the Reverend is vital to what makes von Essen's Stephen tick, it's a minor role in terms of stage time, so Schnetzer didn't have big chunks of dialogue to memorize.

Carolyn Mraz has detailed the interior of the country house in which the first two acts unfold, to allow for a smooth transition to the third act's switch to the Anne and Stephen's London apartment. Jane Shaw's incidental music enlivens the between acts pauses.

By introducing us to Miles Malleson with this never produced play Jonathan Bank proves the validity of that old saw "better late than never." Though Conflict, another Malleson play did make it from page to stage, it too is little known. Therefore, here's hoping that its inclusion in the Mint's reading series (on Feb.13) will follow this better late than never premiere with an equally overdue New York revival.

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Yours Unfaithfully by Miles Malleson
Directed by Jonathan Bank.
Cast: Todd Cerveris (Dr. Alan Kirby), Mikaela Izquierdo (Diana Streatfield), Elisabeth Gray (Anna Meredith), Stephen Schnetzer (Rev. Canon Gordon Meredith), Max von Essen (Stephen Meredith)
Sets: Carolyn Mraz
Costumes: Hunter Kaczorowski
Lights: Xavier Pierce
Sound and original music: Jane Shaw
Hair, wigs, makeup: John Jared Janas
Props: Joshua Yocum
Stage Manager: Jeff Meyers
Runtime: 2 hrs. and 30 min. with 1 intermission
Mint Theater at Beckett Theater at Theater Row complex
From 12/27/16; opening 1/26/17; closing 2/18/17.
Tuesday – Saturday 7:30pmWednesday, Saturday & Sunday 2:30pm
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 12/20/17 press preview

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