The Lantern Theater Company is now presenting Anna Ziegler’s drama The Last Match in Philadelphia until December 15.
Anna Ziegler was born in 1979 in Brooklyn, New York, and is an alumna of Yale, NYU and the University of East Anglia. She earned degrees in writing and poetry. Ms. Ziegler has written several plays. In 2015, her play Photograph 51 was staged in London starring international superstar Nicole Kidman, which helped to make Anna Ziegler into a force to be reckoned with. In 2015, she also wrote The Last Match, which was presented by Roundabout Theatre Company in Fall 2017. We now can see The Last Match at The Lantern with a different cast and creative team.
The Last Match isn’t about three-on-a-match, or a suicide mission; rather, it is the last game of men’s singles competition in tennis played at the U.S. Open in Queens, New York. Tennis as a sport has always had an elite aura about it, especially for those of us over the age of 40 who aren’t upper middle class. So it is with gratitude and delight that the program notes have several important and informative essays on the sport by dramaturg Meghan Winch which do much to demystify the sport. In her essays, she explains the terms, the Grand Slam Tournaments, professional touring, and placing the fictional characters in the play in perspective to real professionals today. The creative team has also done splendid work. The set by Lance Kniskern is fresh and grand. M. Craig Getting directed his actors to go for broke and the result is galvanizing.
The three legends of male tennis today are Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer. Federer is considered by many to be the greatest tennis player in history. All three men are in their 30s, which means they are all expected to soon retire. Interestingly, the BBC World News recently interviewed the three men. All three demurred when asked if they were friends. They did say that they respected each other as outstanding athletes. They also joked about how retirement is something all three men have long contemplated. And so we approach the driving topic of The Last Match: will the reigning pro retire after this last match.
There are four characters in The Last Match: Tim, the aging star who has won six U.S. Open titles, one more than Roger Federer; his opponent is the younger Sergei; Mallory, Tim’s wife and former professional player, now a coach; and Galina, Sergei’s tempestuous girlfriend and mediocre actress. While the main plot is tennis at an impossibly high level, the subplots abound, with jealousy, sadism, doubt, depression, bipolar disorder, miscarriages, horrible clichés, and death looming large in this 90-minute work. The fine actor Scott Miller is Tim, the golden boy and idol of millions who definitely looks and acts the part and who is usually savaged well and regularly by his bitter bitch of a wife Mallory played with frightening craziness by Joanna Liao. Mallory is a most unsympathetic character, so the playwright forces us to like her by having her miscarry twice before in vitro fertilization gives them a son. On the other hand, we have the two Russian clichés, Sergei, played with amazing zest and exuberance by Matteo Scammell, and his monstrous fiancée Galina, realized here by Lee Minora who pulls out all the stops in her outlandish tirades. Both Minora and Scammell provide the comic and tragicomic relief in the play as they play their roles in the most outrageous accents which outdo even Boris and Natasha from the cartoons. Playwright Ziegler leaves no stone unturned in her savage, microscopic inspection of the four characters. Tim is obsessed with having to see love from the audience and looks constantly to see that his father no longer comes, and if his wife shows the slightest moue it devastates him. Sergei mourns his parents, his lonely, tennis-obsessed childhood, and his constant fear of failure. Mallory despises her husband for being a towering success while she can’t even conceive. Galina wants to be an actress but doesn’t want to face rejection. She also confessed to Sergei that her body means everything to her because if she were still fat, Sergei wouldn’t love her, and Sergei is her meal ticket to the good life.
The Last Match is a heady cocktail of psychological introspection seasoned with angst and anxieties all flesh is heir to. The Last Match is gripping theatre which will put you through an emotional wringer. Catharsis is what good drama is all about.
The Last Match is now playing at the Lantern Theater Company at St. Stephen’s Theater, 923 Ludlow Street, Philadelphia, until December 15. For more information about this and their other plays visit www.lanterntheater.org .