Monday, June 1, 2015

'The Letters,' an extraordinary show at Metro Stage

Michael Russotto and Susan Lynskey star in The Letters now playing at Metro Stage/Photo by Chris Banks
Michael Russotto and Susan Lynskey star in The Letters now playing at Metro Stage/Photo by Chris Banks

Two actors, one act, one scene come together brilliantly in the drama The Letters by John W. Lowell now playing at Metro Stage.

It's as good as what you've heard and read, and stars a tight script matched by exceptional performances with every word, every clap, every desk walk around and eye rub, important to the show.

Set in the Soviet Union in 1931, a government bureaucrat (Michael Russotto) summons an employee (Susan Lynskey), a prudish. timid little lady, to his office (eerily reminiscent of a prisoner's dark cell) to see if she likes his news about a promotion. 

It doesn't take long for Herr Direktor to show his real colors which illuminate why he brought her in for a tete-a-tete in the first place!

"You are right for this, if I say you are," he thunders.  "The more you accomplish, the more you're expected to accomplish."

Bit by bit, the sharp dialogue unfolds and reveals what he was brewing in his concoction. How would she like her apartment to be searched to find the letters?  Or, her colleague's apartment?  Her co-worker who has been tortured for the last 24 hours because the government can't find copies of the letters.

What letters? 

Copies of letters written by a famous composer (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky), whose actual sensual correspondence with a man lay the groundwork for  Mr. Lowell's play.

Under the masterful direction of John Vreeke, The Letters grabs you from the get-go with excellent lighting (by Alexander Keen) and design (Giorgos Tsappas) which, with film noir effect and shadowy silhouettes against an opaque glass door, accentuate the dialogue's edgy angles, and its twists and turns until control is relinquished. 

Institutionally painted walls and singular props from a purse to a big desk to the phone (sound design by Aaron Fensterheim; I can hear it ringing) cast the black mood of the all-too-real story.  

Ivania Stack, the costume designer, made sure that nothing distracts from the exchange, especially the little lady's apparel in black and muted browns, from head to toe which complement her mousiness, at least at first.

The Letters first ran on stage in Los Angeles in 2009, after the extension of the U.S. Patriot Act passed in 2006 (strong-armed through Congress by President George W. Bush) and another extension in 2011 (endorsed by President Barack Obama; who would have thunk?).

Lowell presaged the stage performances currently running this week on the floor of the U.S. Senate where some members have dared question the government's collection of citizen data and its purposes while their loyalty and obeisance are doubted by other senators and the president.

Sound familiar?

Talk about the timing of a D.C. premiere! An Edward Snowden strike.

No D.C. drama lover will want to miss this show with its coming Helen Hayes nominations, I just know

It's scary out there.

Other key crew members are Carolyn Griffin, producing artistic director; Richard Lore, stage manager; and Eliza Lore, assistant stage manager.

What:  The Letters by John W. Lowell

When:  Wednesday through Saturday nights at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m., and weekend matinees, Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. through June 14, 2015

Where:  Metro Stage, 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, VA 22314

How much: $50 and $55

Duration:  75 minutes, without intermission

Parking:  Plentiful, on-site, and free

For more information:  703-548-9044

For more reviews of The Letters and other plays, go to DC Metro Theater Arts.


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