Jonathan Bank and the Mint Theater, specialists in reviving long-lost plays, have chosen a real gem for their latest, a 1933 “un-romantic comedy” by character actor, screenwriter, and playwright Miles Malleson. In this case, it’s actually not a revival at all but the world premiere of Yours Unfaithfully, which has never been produced and is not even listed on Malleson’s Wikipedia page. The play begins in the quaint country house of Anne and Stephen Meredith (Elisabeth Gray and Max von Essen), where they are having coffee with two friends, the married Dr. Alan Kirby (Todd Cerveris) and the recently widowed Diana Streatfield (Mikaela Izquierdo). Stephen, a writer, has just had yet another verbal battle with his father, a canon known as Padre (Stephen Schnetzer). They might share a love of playing cricket, but they don’t agree on much else. “He is exasperating!” Stephen says to Anne about his father. “Stephen is really very exasperating,” the canon says to Anne about his son. A moment later Alan tells Anne, “I wonder if you realise that among your friends you and Stephen are rather notorious as being the most successfully married couple we know,” but Anne surprisingly admits that they are not as happy as they once were. Left alone with her husband, Anne even goes so far as to seemingly give Stephen permission to cheat on her. “We must try and not be so dependent on one another,” she says. “Go and get into mischief, and then write and tell me all about it; or you needn’t tell me, if you don’t want to.” At first, Stephen is hesitant, but soon he is stroking Diana’s hair, and the two begin an affair that does not affect Anne the way she imagined. Quoting from George Meredith’s “Modern Love,” Anne recites, “‘In tragic life, God wot, / No villain need be! Passions spin the plot: We are betrayed by what is false within.’” Perhaps an open marriage is not what any of them had in mind when it comes to modern, free love, and certainly not in 1933.
As with all Mint productions, the sets, by Carolyn Mraz, are impeccable, from country house to London flat; the set change during the second intermission actually got a big round of applause. Directed with aplomb by Bank (Katie Roche, So Help Me God!), Yours Unfaithfully moves along at a good clip but takes its time with secrets and revelations, letting various mysteries unfold unhurriedly as Malleson (The Thief of Baghdad, adaptations of three Molière plays) skewers social convention with sharp humor. “The Padre is a vice-president of the Social Purity League,” Anne says after Stephen and the canon have a fight. “An unfortunate society to have a vice president,” Alan responds. “Why behave like a shower-bath one minute and a bath towel the next?” Stephen says to Diana when discussing a trip to Vienna. The cast is superb, led by Tony nominee von Essen (An American in Paris, Les Misérables), who inhabits his role with grace and charm, and Gray (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Understudies), who nobly walks the fine line between jealousy and liberation. And Hunter Kaczorowski’s dresses on the women are simply to die for. The Mint has done it again, in this case unearthing a deserving, little-known play and presenting it in its usual exquisite manner, in its new home in the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, where it has been properly extended through February 18. (On February 13 at 7:00, the Mint will present a reading of Malleson’s 1925 play, Conflict, at the Beckett as part of its “Further Readings” programming.)