|Photo by Richard Termine|
|Max von Essen & Elisabeth Gray in Yours Unfaithfully|
Review by Margret Echeverria
January 27, 2017
I really enjoyed Yours Unfaithfully by Miles Malleson directed by Jonathan Bank so much so that I almost truly loved it. When a play is well-written, a great deal of the work that confronts an ensemble is already done and a temptation arises to not work quite as hard as one should to achieve a believable imitation of life upon the stage. This play tackles one of my favorite subjects: the complexities of polyamory in an era before we called it that. It is 1933 England where we discover that, while the common citizen of the world struggled with an economic depression, the privileged experimented with open marriages, rebelled against religious constraints and had a whole lot of sex while attempting to intellectualize it all to control all the “feels.”
Malleson’s script advances the story well and with wit, but only after a rather lengthy exposition scene. Lots and lots of words here to explain who Anne and Stephen Meredith are (Elisabeth Gray and Max von Essen, respectively), what their marriage is like and how they feel about each other. I was disappointed to see how many times Gray was directed to cross, pose and sit. Yes, she is gorgeous, but if it was a part of Anne’s personality to show off her sublime silhouette by looking for excuses to move, then I would have liked to have seen a commitment to that from Gray. I also heard words that indicated all these characters have quite a bit of affection for one another, but I would have gladly indulged reasons why expressed in stolen non-verbal queues such as lingering looks or endearing mannerisms. Todd Cerveris in the character of Dr. Alan Kirby is on point complete with adorable mannerisms, knowing smiles, vulnerable glances and a total embodiment of the steeped in humanity doctor. I wanted to put him in my pocket and snack on him later.
The story is that Stephen, the son of a reverend no less, and Anne have an open-ish marriage. Anne had an affair with Alan a few years ago with Stephen’s knowledge and blessing. Now, Stephen has developed feelings for their widowed friend, Diana (Mikaela Izquierdo), and begins a love affair with her seemingly with Anne’s blessing. But Anne struggles with how she would like to feel – enlightened and happy that Stephen is happy – and the internal green-eyed octopus grabs at her from all directions. There is also the problem of keeping these private lives private, which proves impossible when Stephen’s father, Rev. Canon Gordon Meredith (Stephen Schnetzer), stumbles upon the reality of what is going on. Schnetzer was recently added to the cast to replace John Hutton in the role of the “Padre” and this Another World fan was beyond thrilled to see him. Schnetzer is handsome, a self-assured and very natural actor with a timber of voice that I have been in love with since I’m nineteen. The Reverend is a loving disciplinarian to his adult son and they passionately debate the path of traditional Christian morality against the modern reinvention of that morality. Again, the script dictates deep affection between these characters. Schnetzer puts it out there, but von Essen does not always receive it. Their scenes would have been better if von Essen had made the choice to build on what he was being given.
Where von Essen shines in skillful give and take is toward the end of the show in a scene with Cerveris, which wetted my eyes with the overflow of a well-watered heart.
The significance of watching a story about a woman conquering new territory in sexual freedom, defining her role in a modern marriage and liberating her self-expression the day before nearly a million women marched on Washington was not a detail that I missed. The cast brings the story home despite being set over eighty years ago. Gray takes the reigns and lets us into Anne’s humanity beneath the polite, pleasant and stoic exterior and into the pain of jealousy and other secrets only married people know about love and how it all really works. Gray, no matter how she is directed, is a cunning and powerful actor. By the end of the show, I wanted all the characters to win and was glad to see that they do.
I must mention that the costumes lovingly conceived by Hunter Kaczorowski, are of such beautiful colors and textures that I wanted to touch them. However, Gray’s skirt was obviously pinned together in the first act and Schnetzer had a distracting hanging thread from his jacket hem then, too. I am certain this will all be fixed by opening night.
What the popular press said...
"A refined, rueful and often shrewd comedy about polyamory, written decades before open relationships were quite so openly discussed... 'Yours Unfaithfully' is both a daring play and a highly conventional one. Under the polished direction of Jonathan Bank, and in the hands of a fine team of designers, its arguments remain provocative, while its structure feels familiar, its tone decorous... It is often very funny; it is also very nearly a tragedy."
Alexis Soloski for New York Times
"The script offers a scrupulous examination of two warring impulses: the urge to explore versus the instinct to nurture and protect. Happily, we’re spared the wink-wink prompts of farce, though Malleson does allude to an extremely vulgar adage of the day, sanitized here as “Fresh kiss, fresh courage.” If only he had applied that tenet to his rather dry disquisition."
Sandy MacDonald for Time Out New York
External links to full reviews from popular press...
New York Times -