REVIEW: 'The Last Match' Serves an Ace Show
The Old Globe Brings Tennis to Town
The Old Globe
“Can you dig it?” It’s an awkward, cringe-worthy marriage proposal, but one that perfectly illustrates who tennis professional Tim Porter is in Anna Ziegler’s The Last Match: a little smarmy and full of himself, yet somehow still likable and worth rooting for. Thus begins the first-run production of Ziegler’s play, which takes the audience on a sometimes funny, sometimes brutal journey through triumphs and failures, love and heartbreak, and the cruel reality that everything must come to an end. The Last Match is a comedy that will ultimately rip your still-beating heart from your chest. Can you dig it?
The Old Globe’s The Last Match follows a heated tennis battle during the US Open semifinals between Russian newcomer Sergei Sergeyev and aging American star Tim Porter. The play follows their furious match while simultaneously flashing back to some of the most important moments in their lives and relationships with their respective girlfriends.
Performed at the Old Globe's Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, The Last Match brings pristine blocking and direction to The Old Globe. The performance takes place in an arena theatre, with raised seating encircling a ground-level stage. There’s not a bad seat in the house within this intimate space. Director Gaye Taylor Upchurch ensures that the action rotates in such a way that everyone can see something at all times.
Ziegler’s The Last Match stands out for its use of narration and breaking the fourth wall. Characters Tim and Sergei speak directly to the audience, locking eyes with the crowd as they tell their stories. It’s a little jarring at first—it feels like you’re intruding on a private moment of reflection and vulnerability—but it is from the intimacy of speaking directly to the audience that some of the most raw and powerful moments of the show are created.
And oh, does this show have a slew of raw moments. Tim Porter (Patrick J Adams) and his wife Mallory (Troian Bellisario) are without a doubt the emotional centerpiece of the production. From Mallory’s heartbreaking inability to carry a child full term, to Tim’s personal struggle with growing too old to continue playing the game he loves, the pair face one obstacle after another in The Last Match’s most breathtaking scenes. In regards to performance, Bellisario is the true star of the production. The pain, anguish, and even fear that she exudes throughout the play are unnerving. Throughout the opening show, whenever Bellisario was onstage the audience fell into a dead silence, so strong is her performance. Adams, too, possesses a captivating charisma throughout the entire production, but he ultimately shines brightest when playing opposite Bellisario. Those scenes between Adams and Bellisario bring forth a softness and depth of emotion from the often cocky character of Tim. The chemistry between the pair is palpable, though that is to be expected; Bellisario and Adams are engaged in real life.
Writer Anna Ziegler's script does a wonderful job of balancing the harsh moments within The Last Match with much-needed comedy. Bringing some levity to the story are Sergei (Alex Mickiewicz) and his girlfriend Galina (Natalia Payne). The often blunt Galina and the surprisingly cowed Sergei make for a off-kilter pairing that you can’t help but support. Payne and Mickiewicz rake in the majority of the laughs with their often cantankerous relationship without turning the characters into flat caricatures. In truth, all four members of this cast gave incredible performances.
However, viewers of The Last Match should definitely take heed: unlike the SDMT’s production of Ragtime, in which I recommend attending the show without reading any spoilers or outside context, having a working knowledge of tennis will absolutely enhance your enjoyment of The Last Match. Don’t get me wrong, the play is perfectly lovely even if you aren’t sure what a foot fault is, but The Last Match includes enough tennis jargon that a brief crash course in terms isn’t a bad idea. Page P13 of The Old Globe's provided program offers such a handy tennis dictionary, and I strongly recommend you check it out before the play begins.
Ultimately, The Last Match is a tale of the overwhelming pressure to succeed and how our own mortality sometimes stands in the way. Though not exactly uplifting, this show is thoughtful, poignant, and true to life. It is not afraid to present a harsh reality: nothing lasts, and it’s just as well because as Tim, Mallory, Sergei, and even Galina prove, nothing in life is ever enough.
The Last Match is definitely a must-see show! Production runs until March 13th, 2016. Tickets can be purchased via The Old Globe.