Yours Unfaithfully, an unpublished, “un-romantic comedy” by Miles Malleson, gives its audience an intimate look at what it could be like to live in an open marriage, in 1933 and now. Mint Theater artistic director Jonathan Bank has unearthed Yours Unfaithfully and is presenting the world premiere.
The play opens on a summer afternoon, with warm natural light streaming into the brightly colored living room of Stephen and Anne (the set, bright with a hint of modernism, is by Carolyn Mraz). After eight blissful years of marriage, Stephen and Anne find themselves in a stale and unstimulating marriage. In order to help Stephen find the passion for life he once had, Anne tells him that she would not mind if he were to “go and get into mischief...any sort of mischief!”
At first, Stephen seems genuinely bored with the idea, but, moments later, he falls for a recently widowed family friend, Diana. As the innocent relationship between Stephen and Diana deepens, the pain and jealousy of watching her husband come alive with another woman begins to eat away at Anne. She is forced to question what she believes love and marriage really mean to her.
Although ultimately the show comes together, it opens in the middle of a violent argument that falls flat, as Stephen (Max von Essen, a Tony Award nominee for An American in Paris) fulminates. Bank, who is also the director here, allows no place for von Essen to build, so the first moments of the play become a messy blur of unknown names and cricket terms and the audience trying to catch up.
It’s not until the last minutes of the first act, when Anne (Elisabeth Gray) catches Stephen wooing an adrift Diana (Mikaela Izquierdo), and is unfazed by it, that the audience catches up and finally becomes a part of the world of the play. Why the young Diana would fall for a sappy Stephen is a mystery, but the grounded and strong energy Gray brings to the stage gives weight and importance to the scene. The lives of these friends just became much more complicated, and it is inevitable someone is going to get hurt.
In the second act the play begins to find its feet, as a few secrets about Anne and Stephen’s marriage are spilled. Despite an uncomfortably long scene between Stephen and his father (Stephen Schnetzer) that feels almost unrehearsed, Gray as Anne does a wonderful job at walking the line between heartbreak and pride, as jealousy becomes a new character. The play asks many good questions about what a marriage is. If you have one strong relationship, isn’t love understanding that and letting some additional people in every now and then? But, if you can’t bring your partner the exhilaration that another person can, isn’t that agonizing?
The questions keep coming in the third act. Is it possible to recover from jealousy? Is a marriage able to recover from heartbreak and pain? According to Alan (played by a boisterous and easy Todd Cerveris), a friend of Stephen and Anne’s, a marriage as strong as what they have can recover from anything. However, life is not always so easy, or things don’t always end happily ever after.
At times this production may feel slightly off, and although most of the choices made seemed very safe, each act has a way of winning the audience over. The way this delightful play is written twists and turns with a little surprise around every corner. The sound by Jane Shaw sets a very 1930’s stage. The lighting by Xavier Pierce alerts the audience as to when it is day, a warm summer evening, or a dark and lonely night.
What is demonstrated beautifully in this revival, is that relationships have not changed so much from 1930 to now. As people, we are all still asking the same questions about relationships, and in search of the same answers. What is true love, and how can we stay honest to ourselves and our feelings? Or, as a very wise Alan says, “What we think we feel! That’s as near as most of us get.”
Performances of Yours Unfaithfully are at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd St.) through Feb. 18. For tickets, call (212) 239-6200 or visit the Theatre Row Box Office. For more information, visit minttheater.org.