Jonathan Bank continues to confirm his position as Foremost Champion of Forgotten Playwrights. For that, he deserves undying thanks from theatergoers everywhere. His newest (re)discovery is Miles Malleson's Yours Unfaithfully, currently working its melancholy charm at the Beckett. And, into the bargain, it's a world premiere.
"Miles Malleson--the name sounds familiar," you may be saying to yourself. It does if you're a movie fan of a certain age. You know the name from film credits and performances in classics like Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Importance of Being Earnest and Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright. Malleson was a reliable character in British releases or releases shot in England, but he was little known stateside for his other talents, like producing (Emlyn Williams's Night Must Fall, for one) and playwriting.
He wrote many plays that had respectable runs in the West End, although Yours Unfaithfully isn't one of them. That's in part because--Mint Theater Company artistic head and this production's director Bank surmises--Malleson's properties never earned much money. Also, this one--written inn 1933, when it is set--may have come at a time when the author was otherwise engaged.
On the occasion of this debut, then, Yours Unfaithfully is a definite find. Stephen Meredith (Max von Essen>) and Anne Meredith (Elisabeth Gray) have been married for eight years. During that time they've been giddily happy, but as they let slip to friends Diana Streatfield (Mikaela Izquierdo), a recent widow just back from a long trip to forget, and Dr. Alan Kirby (Todd Cerveris), a one-time dalliance for Anne, they're beginning to be less completely gaga about each other.
The dismaying news isn't tipped, however, to Rev. Canon Gordon Meredith (Stephen Schnetzer), the father with whom Stephen shares a frequently volatile love-hate relationship. The Canon gets wind of the extra-marital goings-on anyway by the second act when the seemingly sophisticated Stephen and Anne have agreed that the ideal thing for Stephen to do is pursue an affair with the emotionally needy Diana.
That's what he does, although during the second act Anne confides to Dr. Kirby that she's surprised to find, as she puts it in three words, "I am jealous." By the third act, she's consoled herself by having a weekend fling with a man the audience never sees but about whom she tells Stephen. Not so by the way, the confession arrives just as Stephen has realized that Anne is the love of his life and that he'd appreciate their renewed commitment to each other.
What happens as the final curtain approaches in Malleson's acerbic comedy will not be revealed, but it's absolutely perfect. Perhaps it's fair to divulge that Anne delivers the answer as the play's final line. Patrons having inner debates with themselves over how the dilemma can possibly be satisfactorily resolved will be surprised and delighted to realize the ending is the only one that makes any genuine sense.
That blackout utterance confirms that if Malleson wasn't the exactly right man for his time (whereas someone like Noel Coward, whose Design for Living bowed in 1933, was), he may still be a man for 2017. He's astute at understanding the complications that arise when men and women blithely place themselves above bourgeois attitudes. Stephen and Anne are completely recognizable in their choice to ignore deeper feelings in order to appear boldly iconoclastic.
To bring this portrait of an alternate design for living to pungent life, Bank couldn't have found a better cast. Playing the superficially cavalier Anne, Gray gets it all down, just as Izquierdo, taking playing Diana, is impeccable at showing a woman not quite ready for a casual fling after her husband's death. It's also a big plus that Gray bears a resemblance to Helen Mirren and possesses that kind of unself-conscious sexiness. Izquierdo has something of the beauty Hedy Lamar had in her '30s and '40s films.
Cerveris as a shrink constantly called on to listen to his friends' woes is terribly clever at affecting the poses and expressionless expressions common to psychotherapists of all shapes and sizes. His is truly an uncanny achievement. Schnetzer, who looks as if he could be von Essen's father, matches the level of von Essen's anger when the pair repeatedly confront.
And then there's von Essen's Stephen. Known just about exclusively as a musical comedy performer (most recently on Broadway in An American in Paris), the actor doesn't trill a note here, but as a boulevard comedy leading man he metaphorically sings. This is a comedy with a shaded undertone, and von Essen is completely in somber tune with those demands, not to mention that, seen often in profile, he's GQ-style handsome. This widened display of his talents will likely be catnip for casting agents.
Is it the move from the previous 43rd Street home to the Beckett the reason that the Mint's recent sets are so smart looking? Whatever, Caroline Mraz comes up with a comfortably lived-in country parlor for acts one and two and a convincing look for Stephen's and Anne's third-act London bedsit. (Since Yours Unfaithfully is written in three acts, Bank appropriately provides two intermissions.)
Hardly the least of the Yours Unfaithfully selling points are Hunter Kaczorowski's outstanding costumes. In the first act, Anne makes big deal over a frock Diana is wearing. Diana says she picked it up in Paris only days before, and the piece of eye-catching apparel looks true to Diana's claim.
Kaczorowski also remembers there was a time when men wore brown suits, and he acts on that. Dr. Kirby wears a brown spiffy pin-striped suit in act two, and Stephen sports a snazzy solid brown suit in act three. Then there are the period ties Kaczorowski had found. Where did he locate such marvelous examples of the era's weird geometric patterns?
Let's just say that the Mint's Yours Unfaithfully is well dressed in every possible department. Let's also just ask if there are any other Miles Malleson gems available for Jonathan Bank to make hay of? In the vernacular of that particular past, more Malleson would be swell.