Cambridge's leading amateur theatre production company

Established 1981

The Last Yankee
by  Arthur Miller   directed by Brenda Cottis

The Playroom, Cambridge, January 2013

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A Review of The Last Yankee
by Barry Brown

The Last Yankee is a concise exploration of the 'American Dream' and the casualties it leaves in its wake. A late, short play by Miller, it recalls his earlier plays in their social concerns and gift for telling detail. Set in the suitably austere (Ron Meadows, Designer) and harshly lit (Ed Hopkins, Lighting) interior of a State Mental Institution, the play follows the visit of two very different husbands to their wives, being treated for depression.

Leroy Hamilton (Dave Foyle) is, in most respects, a happy and fulfilled man, a skilful carpenter with pride in his craft and joy in his large family and the simple non-materialistic pleasures in life, the open air, ice-skating and music. The problem for everyone else is that he is not interested in making money and getting on, and, above all, exploiting his rich and influential family who are descended from one of the Founding Fathers. This flies in the face of all that propels the scramble for success
that motors American Society and is seen as a lunatic weakness, though he is, in fact, the only sane character in the Play.

Dave Foyle effortlessly conveyed the sense of a man who was comfortable in his own skin, underplaying that most difficult of roles, the quietly happy man. John Frick (Colin Lawrence) by contrast, is a self-made man, who has pulled himself up by his bootstraps and cannot believe Leroy's non-competitiveness and his own wife's slide into depression. She is in the Institution because it is free and he pays his taxes, but he can find little to console himself about it other than the fact that it has a large car park. His incomprehension brings a well-observed  humour to the proceedings and Colin Lawrence caught his edgy, buttoned-up quality and his embarrassment at the whole situation, never more so than when invited to sing along with his wife's dance routine, his face a vision of discomfort.

But the meat of the drama was in the interaction of their wives, patients in the Institution. The mood was set by Rosemary Eason's unnerving, child-like collapse onto a bed before Karen Frick (Sally Marsh) and Patricia Hamilton (Christine Stewart) took centre stage. Karen is withdrawn and tranquilised. Childless, nervous, drained of all self-confidence, not least by a husband who is impatient with her loss of get up and go but can offer no encouragement, she finds it difficult to maintain a coherent train of thought. But she blossoms under the interest of her fellow patient and is encouraged to burst into a liberating dance routine, the dramatic high point of the evening. Sally Marsh looked harrowingly defenceless, her body crumpled and defeated and gave a brave and believable performance, amongst the best she has done.

Patricia Hamilton (Christine Stewart) is in many ways the most complex of the characters, a 'winsome pessimistic Swede',brought up to expect that she would have everything and struggling to settle for a life with a man who thinks that that
represents a happy family and a skate on a pond. She obsessively explores her own condition but never mentions her family and flirts instead with the Church as an avenue for her elusive fulfilment. Christine Stewart gave a frankly astonishing
performance, baring her soul on the pitiless stage of the Playroom, her face and body
twisting this way and that under the impulse of her extraordinary, driving nervous energy.

Brenda Cottis is to be congratulated on another fine production and for turning a play
of ideas into a very human, totally believable and compelling drama that totally absorbed her audience.