REVIEW: BAT’s The Letters a ‘well crafted production of a wonderful script’


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Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

A Russian Ministry Director (Michael Mendonsa) has an unexpected visitor in “The Letters,” written by John W. Lowell. Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

A Russian Ministry Director (Michael Mendonsa) asks his employee Anna (Devin Rodger) to sit as he begins an intense interview/interrogation to locate important missing documents in “The Letters,” written by John W. Lowell. Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Russian bureaucrat Anna (Devin Rodger) is intimidated by her boss, a Ministry Director (Michael Mendonsa), in an intense interview/interrogation to locate important missing documents in “The Letters,” written by John W. Lowell. Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Review By Shelli Park
Photos by Michael Brunk

Fear is a powerful emotion. Throw in a dose of envy, insecurity, attraction and illusion of power and you have an intriguing scenario.

The Letters, skillfully written by John W. Lowell, is a timeless story. Through the power of the dialogue perception and perspectives shift.

It begins simply enough. The scene is a stark office adorned with photographs of Lenin and Stalin. The glass in the office door reads ‘Director’.

A woman enters, nervous.

After a bit of anxiety-filled pacing, a man enters the office with an air of authority and confidence, giving orders to an unseen assistant outside of the office as he passes through the door. The door is shut and the level of tension increases.

“Is there something I can do for you?” Anna, the woman, asks…

Anna (Devin Rodgers) sits with shoulders drawn protectively up, her gaze down only looking up to speak.

The Director of the Ministry (Michael Mendonsa) is, if one doesn’t look too closely, at ease, playing the affable boss. He is confused as to why Anna isn’t more relaxed.

And the game begins.

Rodgers, in her grey Soviet uniform, seems a simple, transparent character, but she is hiding her depths. Her idiosyncrasies help define her fear, and her poverty. Watching Anna evolve as the dialogue progresses is a pleasure. Rodgers uses the dialogue effectively to craft her character, letting emotional subtleties build and create the momentum which drives the plot to its powerful conclusion. She becomes the Oracle.

Mendonsa’s Director is strong. The Director is a complex character to play. He is at once at ease with his control over the situation, and insecure. He attempts manipulation, mixing reassuring talk with psychological play. He is openly insecure about his lack of education. Mendonsa plays the dichotomy of the most powerful man in the Ministry who is also the most insecure to a T. He is a foot soldier lording it over a group of intellectuals fearing for their lives.

Lowell’s script is brilliantly laid out. He is gifted in his ability to embue the characters with the ability to evolve and skillfully play mind games. He recreates a period of history, not dissimilar in some respects, to our own, where fear and paranoia can be powerful. The story is an intimate study in human behavior, but also suggests a metaphor for larger matters.

The only critique I have of the script is, at times, the Director’s command of vocabulary seems at odds with his claim to have only had a soldier’s education. This makes a sarcastically complementary comment Anna makes to the Director about a big word he uses less poignant, pointing out the discrepancy.

The director, Beau Prichard makes good use of character placement in the space to accentuate tension and the Director’s manipulative power plays. The Director moves chairs and the two sit in various configurations playing upon the different emotions the Director is trying to evoke.

Allan Loucks, who composed, conducted and performed, along with percussionist, Dan Seese, brings two sensibilities to this production. Our first sonic experience arrives pre-show through a lovely, live atonal piano performance accompanied by Seese’s moody improvisations on cymbal and drums. Loucks creates a feeling of unsettledness, but also searching, and a feeling of tentative progression; the feeling of a story being told. This theme is continued during the Intermission.

In opposition to this introduction comes the opening music, a pre-recorded choral piece conducted by Loucks and performed by the Crown Hill Chorale. The music is what sounds to be an anthem from Soviet Russia, which clearly set an opposing mood, putting any free-thinking that happened pre-show in its place.

The Letters is a well crafted production of a wonderful script. Burien Actors Theatre presents an opportunity to observe, in a petri dish, human relationship and to take away nuggets of wisdom for current times. It is another example of the bravery of Eric Dickman and Maggie Lerrick in bringing fine theatre to Burien.

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Ticket prices range from $7 to $20. Student tickets are just $10. For tickets, special deals or other information, go to www.burienactorstheatre.org or call 206-242-5180.

REMAINING PERFORMANCES:

  • Friday – April 15 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday – April 16 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday – April 17 at 2:00 p.m.
  • Friday – April 22 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday – April 23 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday – April 24 at 2:00 p.m.
  • Friday – April 29 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday – April 30 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday – May 1 at 2:00 p.m.

TICKET PRICES AND PACKAGES:

Tickets at the Box Office (all shows):

  • General : $20
  • Senior: $17
  • Student: $10

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