A Play About Open Marriage and Sex Galore in Quiet Old 1933 Great Britain

Culture Watch
tags: theater review, Unfaithfully Yours

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at bchadwick@njcu.edu.

Poor Stephen Meredith. The mid-30s hubby of sleek, slender, wealthy Anne Meredith is a writer who cannot get his next work started because he has no motivation. What to do? Wife Anne has a quick and easy solution – get him to plunge into a sexual relationship with her best friend Diana. That will reduce hubby’s stress, energize him and get him out of the bed and behind the typewriter again.

And who is Diana? She is also the love interest of Dr. Alan Kirby, who used to be Anne’s lover. Well…one of Anne’s lovers. She has had two, will bag a third before the play is over and there may be a fourth or fifth somewhere down the hall. Who can keep score?

Is this happening in racy Beverly Hills today? Woodstock in 1969? No, it is frumpish old London in 1933. Yes, stodgy, conservative England. Who knew?

All of this bounding about takes place in Unfaithfully Yours, a delightful play presented by the Mint Theater Company, that just opened at the Beckett Theater in the Theater Row complex on W. 42d Street, in New York. The Mint revives old plays and they plucked this amorous chestnut from the files of British playwright Miles Malleson. It has never been produced, but now Mint artistic director Jonathan Bank, the director of this play, has brought it to life after all these years – skimpy towels and all.

Nothing is new under the sun, and people have been ripping each other’s clothes off since the raunchy days of ancient Babylon. But 1933 England? The stiff upper lip crowd? The ‘no sex please, we’re British’ folks? Well, cheerio!

Anne and Stephen are not members of a swingers club. They agree that they have a lustless, tired marriage and believe both of them, that affairs would add spice to their lives and strengthen their marriage, not weaken it. Right!

You think, from the first five minutes of the play, that the two of them are headed for a marital train wreck. One or the other has got to get jealous of the arrangement, and they do. One or the other has to get angry, and they do. One or the other has got to threaten to leave, and they do.

And yet…

Wife Anne is determined to have Stephen tumble between the sheets with her friend Diana, who at first thinks it is a good idea. As time goes by, though, Diana pulls back. Anne just plunges right ahead, sashaying into a London party that leaves her into yet another romance. She is a sexual freight train. By the time the drama ends, you wonder what will happen to their marriage. Today, the whole crew would wind up on the Dr. Phil show.

Oddly, there is just about nothing in the play about the depression, and in 1933 it was crushing England as well as the United States. Granted, if you were rich you were not hurt as badly as the middle class and poor in that financial catastrophe, but, still, the people in this play would have been discussing it somewhat. Playwright Malleson should have slipped a minute or so of dialogue into the play defining the troubles of the depression.

The play has some other small problems. It is about fifteen minutes too long. There are some dead moments. The characters talk too much and make the same point over and over again. That is a small complaint, though, in discussing an enjoyable night at the theater. And it is always good to know that for some people life was, well, how to say it, rather interesting in 1933 England.

Director Bank has done a fine job of bringing this old gem to life. He gets good performances from Max von Essen as Stephen, Elizabeth Gray as Anne, Mikaela Izquierdo as Diana, Todd Cerveris as Dr. Kirby and John Hutton as Stephen’s dad, Rev. Meredith.

Did anyone ever push me into a torrid sexual affair to get my creative juices flowing? Provide girlfriends for my enjoyment? Encourage me to swing naked from the chandeliers to find my muse?

Are you kidding? When I got writer's block my wife would remind that the mortgage was due and I would jump behind the typewriter and start pounding the keys.

PRODUCTION: the play is produced by the Mint Theater. Sets: Carolyn Mraz, Costumes: Hunter Kaczorowski, Lights: Xavier Pierce, Sound: Jane Shaw. The play is directed by Jonathan Bank. It runs through February 18.

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