By John W. Lowell
Directed by Kimberly Senior
At Writers’ Theatre, Glencoe
Powerful subtle mystery unfolds
Playwright John W. Lowell’s The Letters, under the direction of Kimberly Senior, is a masterful subtle mystery. We are on the edge of our seats throughout this engaging 75 minute one act. Upon entering the theatre located in the back of the Books On Vernon Bookstore, we notice pictures of Lenin and Stalin on the wall behind a desk. We also notice Russian writing on the door. When Anna (Kate Fry) enters we see that she is a stoic figure who appears bland yet unassuming. She hides her fear well. But when her boss, the director (Mark L. Montgomery) enters, the gamesmanship begins.
At first the charming director cordially complements the cautious Anna and promotes her but eventually we notice that more is going on here than merely having Anna get a promotion. The director starts a game of cat and mouse once he informs Anna that her lover and fellow worker is under arrest. It seems that her fellow editor – who edit or censor writings, including letters, from famous Russians to sanitize them from anything that the Communist Party deems questionable have committed treason. It is 1931 and complete control, suppression of thought prevails in all walks of life in the Soviet State. Anna is a non-political intellectual turned bureaucrat who survives by simply doing her job. The director is an ambitious ex-cavalry officer who has aligned his career with the interests of the state. he is ruthless and controlling. He is also a master interrogator.
We observe Anna (powerful subtle performance by Kate Fry) move from frighten to submissive to attacker as she deftly reverses the roles of hunted and hunter. Seeing who will claim the upper hand: those who want to suppress the truth or those who’ll risk everything to liberate it is at the core of this two-hander.
Where are the missing duplicate letters becomes the core issue here. Will they lead to Anna’s demise or to the directors? Playwright John W. Lowell weaves a suspenseful verbal game that is full of twists that fuels the state sponsored paranoia that can result in a wave of self-destructive actions.
Kate Fry and Mark L. Montgomery are fabulous here. Montgomery exudes a mixture of charm, charisma and rage while Fry is calm, controlled yet fiery. The two play off each other marvelously. The writing, the pacing and the performances here are expert and engrossing. This cautionary tale is still relevant today unfortunately. The Letters is outstanding theatre – don’t miss it!
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Date Reviewed: December 4, 2012
For more info checkout The Letters page at theatreinchicago.com
At Writers’ Theatre, 664 Vernon (in the Books On Vernon Bookstore), Glencoe, IL, call 847-242-6000, www.writerstheatre.org, tickets $35 – $70, Tuesdays & Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 6 pm, select Wednesday matinees at 2pm), running time is 75 minutes without intermission, through March 3, 2012