The Last Yankee sees Rapture Theatre return to Edinburgh with another play by Arthur Miller, following the success of All My Sons a fortnight ago. Together the plays make a compelling testament to the author in the centenary year of his birth. The Last Yankee is the story of Leeroy Hamilton, descendant of founding father Alexander Hamilton, and his wife Patricia. As is common in Miller’s plays, all the action takes place in a single location: this time it is set in the mental hospital where Patricia is a patient.
Miller explores the issue of mental health, social standing, and self-worth in this compressed but accessible piece. Leeroy, played by David Tarkenter, is a carpenter bearing the weight of an old name but with few prospects and less money. Finding diversions in playing the banjo or skiing seem to him the key to happiness. But the struggle to understand depression as an illness without any blameable cause grows in significance as the play goes on.
The Hamilton’s find themselves looking in a warped mirror as they each encounter Mr and Mrs Frick, played by Stewart Porter and Jane McCarry respectively. John Frick has come, as Leeroy, to visit his wife in the hospital, and it is with their conversation in a waiting room that the play opens. The two compare notes on their wives to question why they might be there, but as each possible reason falls apart through contradiction by the other, they come close to a realisation that there may be no reason at all.
Tarkenter’s portrayal carries a great depth of character and understanding. In a small space such as the Red Lecture Theatre in Summerhall, his acting commands attention with an everyday ease. He looks comfortable in the skin of his characters even as they struggle under pressure. Playing opposite him as Patricia is Pauline Turner who provided an engaging performance with intense focus. While at points treading the line of hysterics, her portrait of mental illness is sympathetic and, in parts, heart wrenching.
Miller limits himself in this one act play to a brief time span and a concentrated setting. The entirety of the action takes place in two rooms, a waiting room and a bedroom. Reflecting this, the stage design is concentrated but effective. The back wall evokes countless facilities made of breeze block, painted to look like the American flag. It is obviously unwelcoming. A patient is lying in one bed to the right of the stage, played by Natalie Clark. For the duration of the show she moves little, if at all, says nothing and isn’t spoken to. Despite the conversations that form the bulk of the play, this silence is a constant reminder of the difficulty of depression and perhaps a critique of the treatment.
With this production Rapture Theatre aims to help destigmatize mental health issues. Working in conjunction with See Me, a charity devoted to end mental health stigma and discrimination, they ran an excellent talkback at the end of the show. Of the 22 tour dates, 20 of those will have talkback sessions with stories shared by sufferers of mental health issues. I would recommend this production of The Last Yankee as it is an extremely relevant piece of theatre in times when society is trying to reduce the stigma attached to mental illnesses.