A 1933 play about an open marriage makes its world premiere with the Mint Theater Company.
We sometimes forget that conventional ideas about marriage and sex were vigorously challenged long before the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Yours Unfaithfully, written in 1933 by British playwright and actor Miles Malleson, explores the marriage of a freethinking couple as they negotiate the jealousies and rivalries that arise when they allow each other an occasional dalliance on the side.
Malleson wrote from experience. Not long after he married his first wife, Constance, she began an affair with the philosopher Bertrand Russell. That marriage didn't work out, nor did Malleson's next one. What happens to the couple in Yours Unfaithfully, which the Mint is giving its world premiere at the Beckett Theatre more than 80 years after Malleson wrote it, is less certain. Max von Essen and Elisabeth Gray, who play Stephen and Anne Meredith, do an admirable job portraying the seesaw emotions of the convention-bending pair, but Malleson's uneven script makes us wait until the final act — two acts and two intermissions away — for a dramatic payoff.
Stephen and Anne, a progressive-thinking couple, live in a quaint country home outside of London. (Carolyn Mraz's mélange of a set, a curious assortment of furniture and bric-a-brac, is less successful at conjuring the 1930s than Hunter Kaczorowski's colorful costumes.) Stephen, an author with writer's block, was raised by a religious, pontificating father, who happens to be a man of the cloth, the Rev. Canon Gordon Meredith (a stern Stephen Schnetzer).
Stephen has rejected his father's outmoded attitudes toward morality and marriage. So has Anne, who has no qualms about Stephen beginning an affair with their friend Diana (a quietly aggressive Mikaela Izquierdo) — at least not at first. Soon, the green-eyed monster creeps in, leaving Anne to vent her unexpected jealousy to Dr. Alan Kirby (Todd Cerveris). But when the tables turn, Stephen and Anne wonder whether their marriage can survive extramarital flings, no matter how open-minded they are.
Von Essen gives us an intelligent yet oblivious man who remains self-satisfied with himself and his principles until those same principles don't work in his favor. He has solid chemistry with Gray, whose Anne gradually evolves from anxiety-ridden to self-assured; her evening dress and hair (makeup and wigs by John Jared Janas) in Act 3 beautifully convey this transformation. Cerveris also saves a nuanced performance for the third act, where Malleson seems to have a surer handle on his story.
The earnest plot of Yours Unfaithfully, unfortunately, begs for a more comedic treatment. Director Jonathan Bank squeezes in a few chuckles now and then, but this is far from the smart comedy it could have been. Bank also drags out the two-hour-15-minute runtime with an intermission after the 30-minute first act (with no set change to justify the break). Other elements of the play become comical without meaning to. Singing birds are heard only when there's an awkward pause in the conversation (sound design by Jane Shaw). More than once an abrupt chirp punctuated one of those silences, provoking a laugh from the audience.
Still, Yours Unfaithfully offers keen insights into the destructiveness of jealousy, while exploring, almost as a side note, the subject of permissive relationships. And Malleson also had the good sense to avoid a tidy ending, leaving the fate of Stephen and Anne's marriage wide open.