Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

Dead Letter Office

By Phillip Dawkinsdead letter office by phillip dawkins

Conceived by Ben Viccellio

Directed by Dieterich Gray

Produced by Dog & Pony Theater Company

At DCA Theater, Chicago

Promising new work slow to take off

Dead Letter Office has an impressive set (designed by William Anderson) that aptly depicts the basement in a Twin Cities Post Office where all the dead letters are processed. This thankless job is so routine that Christian (the movingly empathetic John Fenner Mays) finds himself caught in an obsessive-compulsive daily ritual.  Director Dietrich Gray and playwright Phillip Dawkins let the depiction of Christian’s routine drag on far too long. We get as annoyed with the quirky mail carrier Agatha (Susan Price) as does Christian as she breaks his ritual by hand delivering his personal mail.

dead letter office by phillip dawkins

Dawkins vividly depicts the drudgery of someone trying to sort out mislabeled and wrongfully addressed letters. This highlights our inability to communicate both with the written word and in person. Agatha and Christian struggle to be understood. When the boss, Rolo (Joshua Volker) hires Je’ T Aime (Kristen Magee) to work in the Dead Letter Office, a new surreal atmosphere of mystery becomes apparent.  We learn that each day Christian mails a letter to his estranged wife who left him after he killed a man in a boxing match.

Je’ T Aime uncovers a secret that threatens everyone especially Christian whose pain oozes out over time.  Je’ T Aime also has a secret that unfolds as the play finally picks up steam. Dead Letter Office desperately needs a hook or an action early on to get us to care and stay with  the drudgery. The audience became restless.  If you stay involved, Dead Letter Office eventually becomes a psychological suspense surreal adventure that finds the characters self-destructing.  Act two is a riveting movement that takes the early realism and turns it into a symbolic world of daemons, guilt and  psychological torture.

I’d advise Dawkins and Gray to tighten up the early parts with either action or the hint of an underlying problem so we will be patient with the shows  slow development. The subtle move from realism to surreal needs to have a stronger foundation.  The atmosphere developed by Anderson’s terrific set and the performance of Mays worked. Despite the plays flaws, I was taken by the pain and inability of the these tarnished characters to communicate or cope with their demons. The Sam Shepard-styled personal angst was powerfully depicted. The imminent destruction of their world is vividly presented. I liked this play.


Tom Williams

Jeff Recommended

At DCA Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph, Chicago, IL

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