Elegy for a Lady and The Yalta Game
Arthur Miller and Brian Friel
Salisbury Playhouse’s studio theatre, the Salberg, has had a bit of a facelift for this production and thoughtful rearrangement of the seating has ensured a much-improved viewing experience for the audience.
You can see why these two pieces have been placed together, both one act long (or should that be short?), rather conveniently using just two characters, a middle aged man and a younger woman, and both works having a strong element of fantasy about them.
Elegy for a Lady is set in a New York boutique. The owner, played with charm and convincing empathy by Ruth Everett, and a potential customer (Mark Frost), are discussing a gift for his mistress who is gravely ill (the Lady of the title whose influence is cleverly indicated by an overhead arrangement of hanging bags, scarves and other feminine accessories) and facing a possibly fatal operation.
Yet she has cut herself off from him, is no longer even answering his telephone calls. As the man gradually reveals the extent of his wretchedness (real or invented), our sympathy, encouraged by the plaintive melody of a solo cello joining the dialogue at appropriate moments, goes out to him.
And not just ours, of course. The customer and the boutique owner are drawn inevitable closer together and, as the man’s demons gradually fade, they embrace. So, a satisfactory ending. One we’d hoped for. Or was it?
Alright. A superb performance from these two. But was he just a sexual predator? A lonely man inventing a sad story to gain sympathy for his own ends? Will he ever make it back to the boutique? After all, he didn’t actually pay for that necklace, did he? Sadly, we shall never know.
So, talking of sexual predators, they don’t operate more enthusiastically or cheerfully than Dimitri in Brian Friel’s The Yalta Game, adapted from Chekhov’s story, The Lady With the Dog.
Again played by Mark Frost, with Ruth Everett as Anna, his anticipated conquest, the change of scene is cleverly indicated by the replacement of bags and scarves with parasols and straw hats, for it is high summer and we are in the town square in Yalta, where Chekhov actually spent the last years of his life (The Yalta Game of the play’s title refers to the practice of making loud, scandalous comments about the people there. Did Chekhov himself actually play this game? Again, we shall never know).
So the square is crowded with imaginary holidaymakers enjoying the sun and company, when an attractive young woman with a Pomeranian dog appears, imaginary of course, but mentally patted and caressed by the whole audience, we were that involved thanks to Dimitri’s welcoming manner and Anna’s charm (Ruth Everett again).
She is a young wife taking a short break while her husband is away working. Her ultimate seduction by Dimitri is the result of much planning. And yet we have the fantasy element again. Was there really a waterfall at the Merino Hotel where the seduction took place? Did the seduction actually occur? Did they actually meet in the town square? Did Yalta even have a town square?
Did Anna even exist?
And does it really matter? We care enough to wish them both well.
An intriguing and worthwhile production of two rarely performed little plays, then. And the Salberg was full last night as well as other nights.
But if they’re going to put on more productions of this quality, I think they may have to do even more rearranging of their seating—or extend their runs—because they’re going to get bigger and even more enthusiastic audiences.
Reviewer: Anne Hill