I regret to say that until I saw Mint Theater Company’s production of Miles Malleson’s comedy Yours Unfaithfully, I wasn’t aware of the author, hadn’t heard of him. A great lack on my part, because as a playwright, screenwriter, producer, director, and character actor he had established himself as a brilliant and very versatile theatre legend, working in his native England for well over 30 years beginning in the early 1930s.
By bouncing back and forth from the stage and film as actor and writer beginning in the World War I years and continuing through the 1920s he led parallel professional lives on and off stage and screen. His first play, Youth, was produced in 1916 when he was 28, and he followed it with Conflict in 1925. In 1927 his play The Fanatics became his greatest financial success by giving 313 performances, a very long run in its time.
His plays dealt with many issues of topical concern, including premarital sex, infidelity, and open marriage, but I can find no record of any of them crossing the Atlantic Ocean, which explains my lack of awareness of them. Malleson’s work as actor in film was often limited to very small roles, though in looking back I have some memory of finding him colorful in Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright in 1950 and as the Reverend Chausible in the 1952 The Importance of Being Earnest.
Yours Unfaithfully was written in 1933 but never produced, so we salute Jonathan Bank for staging the world premiere of this absolutely delightful comedy, which deals in three acts with a couple in a happy marriage who must cope with one of its basic premises — that infidelity is perfectly permissible in a solid relationship.
Malleson’s ear for the language of the upper midle class in England is impeccable. Stephen and Anne Meredith, a couple in their thirties, have been happily married for 8 years when Stephen allows himself to woo and win Diana Streatfield, one of Anne’s close friends. Max von Essen and Elisabeth Gray as the free thinking couple, and Mikaela Izquierdo as the very attractive ‘other woman’, bring to the stage the style of acting that hasn’t been in fashion since the Lunts and Ina Claire went to their rewards.
Rounding out the quintet of stylish performances, all of them truthfully based, are Todd Cerveris as a Doctor friend and Stephen Schnetzer as Stephen’s father, the Reverend Canon Gordon Meredith. Mr. Schnetzer, (who only recently joined the cast following the departure for TVLand of John Hutton) even bears a great resemblance to von Essen, and though their resemblance is startling, their very different views on their current situation are explored with great wit and insight by their playwright and by the two actors. Mr. Cerveris in the supporting role of the Dr. with whom Anne had once briefly put theory to the test, makes every moment count with the lightest of touches.
Anne and Stephen’s country house, and later a room in town which they keep for occasional use, are both beautifully realized by Carolyn Mraz’s very realistic sets, both of which are augmented by characteristic detail, The costumes by Hunter Kaczorowski dress these fine actors perfectly, placing them squarely in the mid-1930s when people in their milieu dressed for dinner. This is exactly the sort of play that Jonathan Bank and his colleagues at the Mint are mandated to do. I’ve seen many of them, and this particular one is to me the jewel in its crown. All in all, a delightful surprise.
Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes, including two intermissions.
Yours Unfaithfully plays through February 18, 2017 at the Mint Theater Company performing at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row – 410 West 42nd Street, in New York City. For tickets, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or go online.