Acting is real thrill of ‘The Letters’
Kate Fry and Mark Montgomery in The Letters at Writers’ Theatre. | Photo by Michael Brosilow
Writers’ Theatre, Books on Vernon, 664 Vernon Ave., Glencoe
7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 6 p.m. Sundays, through March 3
(847) 242-6000; www.writerstheatre.org
Updated: December 6, 2012 3:30PM
“The Letters” is an example of truly exceptional performances in the service of a script that’s not always on the level of the acting.
Directed by Kimberly Senior at Glencoe’s Writers’ Theatre, the two-person piece is something of a political thriller. The trouble is, playwright Jonathan Lowell’s end game twist is visible from a distance. The arc of the pendulum is predictable here; it’s evident early on that in this particular game of cat and mouse, the roles of predator and prey will reverse at least once before the hunt is concluded.
The primary reason to see “The Letters” is the bravura performance by Kate Fry.
Fry is at the height of her considerable powers here depicting a highly intelligent, wary woman trying to stay one step ahead in a game high stakes, mental chess match that she’s forced to play blindfolded. Montgomery is also excellent, conveying menace in the most innocuous sounding bits of dialogue, eventually going in for the kill with a sinister, uncompromising authority.
From the start, Fry conveys a seemingly infinite spectrum of emotions often without uttering a word. A shift in posture, an arch in the eyebrow, a glaze of barely contained tears — she’s a master of subtle emoting and her performance is little short of thrilling.
In Fry we see precisely what the fallout is when a totalitarian regime strong-arms its way into the most personal aspects of an individual’s private life. It’s not quite the Orwellian nightmare of 1984, when thoughtcrimes were cause for severe, catastrophic punishment. But it’s close enough to be chilling.
Lowell sets his 75-minute piece in Russia of 1931, putting the drama entirely within the office of the unnamed Director (Mark L. Montgomery), head of a ministry that deals with censorship.
At lights up, Anna (Fry) has been called into the Director’s office. Not knowing why she’s been summoned, Anna is anxious. But she’s also steely and smart, her toughness and wiles gleaming as the Director manipulatively parcels out Information like a hunter carefully baiting a trap. He’s called Anna in for a promotion, he says, but just underneath his professional commendations is an undertow of pure danger.
As matters untwist (and twist), we learn that Anna is an editor whose department has been charged with censoring the highly incriminating letters of a renowned composer. Should their salacious contents reach the public, it would reflect badly on both the Ministry and, indeed, Russia.
The urgent trouble, as the Director reveals in ominously parceled out bits of information, is that a copy of the letters has gone missing. It falls to the Director to infer just what the breach has to do with Anna, and how deeply the most personal aspects of her life have been scrutinized in the name of protecting The State.
What starts as a routine conversation about office matters morphs, with the slow, relentless rhythm of a vice tightening into a terrifying interrogation with revelations of murder, threats of torture and increasing claustrophobia.
Dominated by portraits of Lenin and Stalin, Jack Magaw’s back-of-the-bookstore set is both fittingly nondescript and threatening. It’s a shame Lowell’s plotting isn’t on a par with the production values or the performances.