by Mike “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
At the US Open semifinals two tennis players, American superstar Tim Porter (Danny Binstock) and up-and-coming Russian player Sergei Sergeyev (JD Taylor), face off for the top spot in Anna Ziegler’s “The Last Match.” Both men struggle to win the championship while dealing with personal internal conflicts. Sergei is the young hotshot ready to take the title away from his idol. Tim is the long time champion who fears younger players getting the drop shot on him.
Porter and his wife, Mallory (Daina Michelle Griffith), have been desperately trying to have a baby, while Sergei proposes to his long-time girlfriend, Galina (Robin Abramson).
The story unfolds, volleying back and forth from Tim’s point-of-view to Sergei’s perspective. We watch the first meeting between Tim and Mallory. Then, we pivot back to Sergei’s first date with Galina. Their lives don’t necessarily intertwine, but each man has similar desires. Each man strives ever forward to be the best, while constantly asking themselves, “At what cost?”
After recently seeing Ibsen’s “The Master Builder,” it’s easy to see a parallel between Halvard Solness, the titular Master Builder, and Tim Porter. They both have the same fear. Younger men will assume their titles, just as they have both usurped their elders.
Meanwhile, Sergei’s motivations are a bit more straightforward. He wants to win. He believes, deep in his heart, that it is his time.
Porter and Sergeyev are filled with so much desire, deep wells of want. They are in a constant state of wanting, and it may prove to be their undoing.
Director Tracy Brigden wins the first point. She picked four phenomenal actors to play on her court.
Taylor charms as Sergei. He is charismatic, and filled with youthful exuberance. The character exudes positive energy, and Taylor serves it up perfectly. He needs to radiate good vibes to counteract his girlfriend Galina’s negative ones.
When we first meet Galina, she is a stone, cold shrew, but we fall in love anyway, for a few good reasons. Mostly we love her because Sergei loves her. We start seeing her through his eyes. Sergei sees underneath her brittle outer layer and uncovers a vulnerable girl hiding inside. Galina is a matryoshka doll, a beautiful, loving girl nesting inside the bigger, brasher exterior. She is brilliantly portrayed by Abramson.
Mallory spins us in the opposite direction. She starts out as flat-out adorable in a meet-cute scene straight from any top ten rom-com, but she is wracked with guilt, shame and anger. Griffith deftly portrays every heartache with aplomb.
Binstock channels the essence of Agassi, Nastase and McEnroe; vain and petulant bad boys of tennis, who are undeniably gifted athletes.
Scenic designer Narelle Sissons opts for a simple set, elegantly enhanced by Ann G. Wrightson’s lighting design. Special shout out to costume designer Susan Tsu who wrapped Abramson in a curvaceous floral print that also softened her character, and cranked up her sex appeal to eleven.
The play is more about desire than tennis, though the game factors in to the story, and a healthy knowledge of the terms helps, but a casual observer with no knowledge of the game will catch on quickly. “The Last Match” is a winner.
“The Last Match” runs till May 15 at the City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. For more information, click here.