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Yours Unfaithfully
Photograph: Richard Termine

Theater review: Yours Unfaithfully brings a 1930s depiction of polyamory to light

Written by
Sandy MacDonald

In 1933, when Miles Malleson published his unproduced play Yours Unfaithfully, polyamory was a practice without a label: The term wouldn’t emerge for another half-century. But smart London was atingle with notions of free love, and Malleson—whom you might recall as the recessive-chinned Reverend Chasuble in the 1952 film The Importance of Being Earnest—was an avid proselytizer, graciously sharing his spouse with Bertrand Russell, who happened to have a wife of his own. Malleson’s bio, synopsized in the production’s program, suggests a life story considerably more colorful than the tidy marital drama that unfolds onstage.

In Yours Unfaithfully, whose belated stage premiere is helmed by Mint artistic director Jonathan Bank, Anne and Stephen Meredith (Elisabeth Gray and Max von Essen) are a young, attractive couple at loose ends. As new parents unhappy with the religious orthodoxy espoused by local educators, they’ve started their own school (as the real-life Russells did). The project has sidetracked Stephen, an iconoclastic novelist, and Anne determines that he needs a diversion. What better pick-me-up than their recently widowed friend, Diana (Mikaela Izquierdo)?

First, of course, the trio and their physician confidant (played with bemused restraint by Todd Cerveris) must talk—and talk and talk—the whole thing over. It takes two months of importuning on Stephen’s part, plus a written permission slip from Anne, to get the ball rolling toward their arrangement’s “climax” in Vienna. (Malleon loves wordplay; at one Stephen talks about having “Soho’d my wild oats.”) As Anne has never visited Vienna, the prospect of missing out on sightseeing seems to gall her more than the tryst. But she does have misgivings about the latter, and Gray aces a Deborah Kerr–ish expression of saintly forbearance as she suffers nobly in the stiff-upper-lip, smiling-on tradition.

The script offers a scrupulous examination of two warring impulses: the urge to explore versus the instinct to nurture and protect. Happily, we’re spared the wink-wink prompts of farce, though Malleson does allude to an extremely vulgar adage of the day, sanitized here as “Fresh kiss, fresh courage.” If only he had applied that tenet to his rather dry disquisition.—Sandy MacDonald

Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row (Off Broadway). By Miles Malleson. Directed by Jonathan Bank. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 45mins. One intermission. Through Feb 18. Click here for full ticket and venue information.

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