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The Letters – MetroStage

Jordan Wright
May 17, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Michael Russotto, Susan Lynskey Photo credit Chris Banks

Michael Russotto, Susan Lynskey
Photo credit Chris Banks

In 1930’s Russia, privacy was a luxury afforded to no one.  Suspicion and accusation were the business of the ‘The State’ and its bureaucracy was vast and unyielding.  In The Letters, playwright John W. Lowell thrusts us headlong into the underbelly of the Soviet political machine in a two-person drama that focuses on the machinations of that pursuit.

Anna is an editor in a department investigating famed Soviet composer Tchaikovsky for his homosexual lifestyle, a crime against the State.  His personal cache of letters to an unnamed man, have been confiscated, and her department of three has been tasked with investigating and censoring them for homophonous references.  In this Orwellian world of interrogator-and-accused all perceived ‘illegal’ activities threaten the business of the State and those who breached these anti-intellectual statutes were tortured into confession or sentenced to a life in a remote gulag or death.  It is a cautionary tale, one which calls to mind the evil regimes of the Spanish Inquisition and Nazi era.

The Director is the apparatchik on whose stringent edicts all investigations turn.  When Anna is summoned into his office, a single room in which the play is set, it is to frighten her into implicating her fellow editors by accusing them of concealing copies of the letters.  The explanation as to why she would defend their honor, is left to the audience’s imagination.

Anna Borisovna, a widow whose late husband, a cellist, was also in the Arts.  Because of that she is seen to be sympathetic to Tchaikovsky’s fate, and in turn the fate of her two colleagues, the young Josef and the elder Pavel.  Offering her an advancement, the Director alternately flatters, “No person likes their efforts to be ignored,” and threatens, “You are already a dupe,” he insinuates, suggesting she is covering for her fellow editors.  “Are you also a traitor?”

As his seemingly innocent conversation of feigned familiarity unfolds we soon realize he is bent on entrapping her into revealing the location of the letters and admitting a conspiracy among her associates.  But Anna catches on to the cat-and-mouse game and turns the tables on the Director.  “In this office Truth is an annoyance, an embarrassment,” she asserts, hoping to dissuade his diabolical methods.

Susan Lynskey -  Photo credit: Chris Banks

Susan Lynskey –
Photo credit: Chris Banks

Susan Lynsky, whom we adored most recently in MetroStage’s production of “Ghost-Writer” in a role that earned her a Helen Hayes Awards nomination, is the consummate actor.  Her ability to inhabit the spirit and gravitas of Anna is a master class in character divination and the reason she is so highly regarded in her craft.  To watch her is to appreciate her finely tuned technique of actualizing her character by slow turns.  Here we see her ability to turn on a dime from shrinking violet to pouncing cat, and make it believable – – in spades.

Michael Russotto Photo credit: Chris Banks

Michael Russotto
Photo credit: Chris Banks

Michael Russotto plays the pugnacious and arrogant Ministry Director.  He is the perfect counterpoint to Lynsky’s controlled unfolding of Anna.  He struts and poses, gesticulates wildly, and terrifies convincingly, taking full use of the whole stage to inform and establish his character.  A skill few actors ever do well.

Giorgos Tsappas present us with a spare set – – a desk and a smattering of chairs – – all the better to focus on the performers.  Stage lighting, reminiscent of a 1930’s movie, is masterfully designed by Alexander Keen.

Taut, crisp and politically charged, it is highly recommended.

At MetroStage through June 14th – 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information visit www.metrostage.org.

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