One of the great pleasures of Pittsburgh theater is seeing Robin Abramson or Daina Michelle Griffith on stage. So you’re in for a double dose of fun with Anne Ziegler’s 2016 tennis drama The Last Match, at City Theatre, featuring Abramson and Griffith as two members of a four-person company. Out-of-towners Danny Binstock and JD Taylor round out the cast.
You noticed I slipped the phrase “tennis drama” in there, didn’t you? Offhand, I’d say there are few plays as terrifically concerned with the game of tennis as is Ziegler’s. But considering the quality of the writing and the relatively low cost of production (one set, four actors, 100 minutes), it’ll probably be the go-to tennis play of the next few theatrical seasons.
Tim Porter (Binstock) is a six-time U.S. Open champeen about to take part in what may be his last match, since he is nearing the tennis-ancient age of 33. His opponent is the circuit’s enfant terrible, Sergei Sergeyev (Taylor), a brash Russian youngster who grew up worshipping Porter.
The intermissionless play, then, is the match — with occasional digressions and flashbacks showing us how Tim and Sergei got there and who’s with them on the journey: Tim’s wife, former tennis pro Mallory, and Sergei’s fiancée, the Russian émigré Galina.
Mallory is struggling to be more than just the wife-of-a-superstar while, at the same time, trying to have a child; Griffith brings her fierce intelligence to the role and can play sublimated heartbreak like nobody’s business. Abramson takes the slightly clichéd role of the Galina (she’s sort of written like Bullwinkle’s Natasha) and plays both the brittle humor and driving ambition. Binstock and Taylor attack their roles at warp speed, and both men turn in compelling and complex performances.
City artistic director Tracy Brigden’s direction of this Pittsburgh premiere is pointed and breezy and of such a caliber you might not notice the slight thinness of the material. Ziegler’s writing is compact and swift, but her characters aren’t especially interesting and their stories are rather expected.
But, really, it’s hardly a problem, and Brigden has overseen an entertaining evening. After all, it’s Daina and Robin, how could it not be?