Metro Weekly

‘The Last Match’ Review: Court & Spark

Ethan Miller aces his role as a Russian tennis pro in 1st Stage's hit-or-miss on-court drama 'The Last Match.'

The Last Match -- Photo: Teresa Castracane
The Last Match — Photo: Teresa Castracane

In the grand scheme of Anna Ziegler’s tennis drama The Last Match (★★★☆☆), it might not matter who wins or loses the titular duel between American champion Tim Porter (Drew Kopas) and Russian upstart Sergei Sergeyev (Ethan Miller). In Alex Levy’s cleverly staged production at 1st Stage, however, the charmingly boastful Sergei clearly emerges as the more fully realized and engaging of the characters.

Brilliantly embodying the young challenger’s drive, hunger, and athleticism, Miller also adeptly delivers Sergei’s trash-talking sense of humor, as the play unwinds its tale of the foes’ hard-fought match on-court, amid side glances to pivotal moments in their off-court lives.

Yet, Miller rises above the script’s tendency to lean on Sergei as comic relief, and invests the guy with personality beyond his bad-boy insults, aggressive style of play, and mane of wild curls. Some native Russian speaker may inform us that Miller is off on the accent, but he sounds enough the part, and pulls off moving and swinging a racquet like a fictional contender in a U.S. Open semi-final showdown.

The Last Match -- Photo: Teresa Castracane
The Last Match — Photo: Teresa Castracane

He might look even more the part wearing gear that reflected Sergei’s relative stature on the pro tour. It makes sense that the rising player wouldn’t be sponsored head-to-toe, or rocking his own branded gear à la superstars of the sport, but costume designer Danielle Preston presents this cocky kid on one of the grandest, most televised, stages in tennis looking like a dude in soccer shorts who wandered over from a local park.

The uninspired visual works against dramatizing the stakes and occasion, but Miller’s performance overcomes. Duds for the more established pro, Tim Porter — playing in his 12th U.S. Open, having won the tournament six times in his storied career — feel on-target, though Kopas barely sells the physicality of this 34-year-old tennis giant. Rather, Kopas renders a capable performance of the text that sells Tim as the aging pro, wondering if he’s reached the end.

As their semi-final stretches towards a scorching conclusion, Tim is forced to grit it out through intense pain, or accept defeat. Kopas overplays some of the veteran player’s higher-decibel dramatic moments, but he and Lynette Rathnam, as Tim’s wife, Mallory, a former Top-20 pro-turned-coach, strike an affecting chord in their emotionally raw scenes together.

The Last Match -- Photo: Teresa Castracane
The Last Match — Photo: Teresa Castracane

Whether the world sees her as more than just Tim Porter’s wife, or if he’s ever going to commit completely to being Mallory Sinclair’s husband, are two of the predicaments Ziegler uses to explore how the pair manages ambition as individuals and as a couple, as Grand Slam-seeking pros or retired ex-players.

Sergei, at an utterly different point in his life and career, and in his marriage to amusing sour puss Galina (Fabiolla Da Silva), also confronts questions of ambition and dedication, confessing, “Tennis is my whole life. On the other hand, I don’t love it and it’s my whole life.”

Director Levy, in perhaps the production’s smartest move, splits the stage into upper and lower floors, with Jessica Alexandra Cancino furnishing a split-level set that allows the audience to see both competitors on-court at once, and stare head-on at both sides of the action.

Alberto Segarra’s lighting captures every shift from flashbacks to the featured match, one player to the other, one year to another, as Sergei and Tim fight to see who will come out on top. But no matter who succeeds in the match, neither player, it seems, has the upper hand when it comes to winning in life.

The Last Match runs through July 2 at 1st Stage, 1524 Spring Hill Road, in Tysons, Va. Tickets are $15 to $50. Call 703-854-1856, or visit


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