This is a tennis match?
There’s no net, no ball, no racquet, and no final score, although the set at Roundabout’s Off-Broadway theater does include a scoreboard. There is only the whoosh or whizzing sound of the (unseen) ball, during the relatively few times over the 95 minutes of the play that the two players mime swings, facing the audience rather than each other.
In Anna Ziegler’s “The Last Match,” we are at a U.S. Open semifinal between All-American Tim Porter (Wilson Bethel), the long-time number one player who’s contemplating retirement because he’s over the hill at 34 (!), and his younger up-and-coming Russian rival Sergei Sergeyev (Alex Mickiewicz) who idolized Tim as a boy and is trying to pretend he’s not intimidated by going up against him now. But the mimed game, which the players mostly describe (e.g. “I barely manage a lob and then it lands long anyway.”) is incessantly interrupted by their interior thoughts and reminiscences, and, above all, by scenes and flashbacks with their respective significant others.
The continual juxtapositions heavily imply that these inserted scenes and monologues are what the players are thinking about while they’re playing, and affect their mood and thus their game from moment to moment. This rings false. It seems much more likely that world-class tennis players focus exclusively on their game while they’re playing it.
But the scenes between Sergei and his bossy girlfriend Galina (Natalia Payne) are comic and lovely. The scenes are sadder and more complex but just as satisfying between Tim and his wife Mallory (Zoe Winters), who was a tennis pro herself, and has had a series of devastating miscarriages. The title could just as well be about these relationships. The characters we get to know are so well drawn and appealing that we’re almost willing to forgive the awkwardness of the play’s overall structure. “The Last Match” would probably make more sense as a short story, freeing us from trying to fit everything into real time. But then we would miss out on the four winning performances.
The Last Match
Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theater at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theater
Written by Anna Ziegler; Directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch
Set design by Tim Mackabee, costume design by Montana Blanco, lighting design by Bradley King, sound design by Bray Poor
Cast: Wilson Bethel, Alex Mickiewicz, Natalia Payne and Zoë Winters
Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission
The Last Match is set to run through December 24, 2017