This neat little two-hander by Brian Friel concisely demonstrates the influence of Anton Chekhov on English language writers, on whose short story The Lady With the Dog the piece is based. Dmitry Gurov (Jake Harders), holidaying Muscovite at the Black Sea resort town of Yalta in pre-revolutionary Russia, meets a pretty young stranger Anna Sergeyevna (Kirsty Mann).
He introduces her to the "Yalta Game" – a people-watching pastime where the players invent the lives of their fellow promenaders and coffee drinkers. The game takes an unexpected turn for Dmitry, an experienced seducer, and Anna, whose loving husband awaits her return, when their initial liaison blossoms into love that leaves an indelible mark.
Director Frances Loy has kept it simple for what is essentially a pair of monologues, occasionally interspersed. A few chairs as café, train, and waterfall wisely focusing our attention on the piece’s fascinating psychological forays and the contrast between Dmitry and Anna. To sense the distance between the characters’ internal reality, that one they project to the world, and that which is perceived by the world is the nature of the Yalta Game.
Harders, an engaging and slyly gauche Dmitry, holds the narrative reins and the piece unfolds generally from his perspective. Mann, simply but elegantly dressed is an intriguing unknown quantity, initially, like a image in a painting.
Watching Mann bringing Anna to life as we warm to the young woman’s perspective is one of the highlights of this piece. Neat, unfussy and necessarily cool, she adds a touch of bleakness to Harders’ wistful optimism, with the delightful result that the piece is very moving.
For a while it seems the voyeurism encouraged by the game will actually inhibit the couple from accepting love, and separated, their coping strategies seem to usher on Nietzsche’s conclusion that love always involves some kind of madness.
If you like a spoonful of metaphysics stirred into psychological realism, you’ll love playing the Yalta Game.
- James Richards