Take a moment and imagine the slightly off-beat combination of W.W. Jacobs short horror story The Monkey’s Paw and the hit 1980’s movie Ghost. You are now primed for the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater’s production of The Correspondent.
In The Correspondent a grieving husband, Philip Graves (Thomas Jay Ryan) hires a dying woman, Mirabel (Heather Alicia Simms) to deliver a message to his recently deceased wife in the afterlife. When he receives letters describing events that only his wife could know, he must determine if the correspondence, delivered by a young man (Jordan Geiger), is from a con artist or actually from the beyond.
We find ourselves in an apartment building in the Beacon Hill area of Boston. Here, in this perfectly livable set by Andrew Boyce, we find a voyeuristic window for the next ninety minutes. From the coffered ceilings, to the built in bookshelves, to the floor to ceiling windows and outdoor environment, Boyce’s attention to detail truly shows through. With the copious and homey props from Ricola Willie and Julia Moreno, Beacon Hill finds a home in New York.
The cast attempts to portray the natural discomfort that occurs when strangers meet and discuss tragic emotions. Through the direction of Stephen Brackett, they make minor strides with the somewhat unnatural and clumsy writing of Ken Urban. Some small successes of the show are seen in the casual and realistic habits the actors portray, such as eating, drinking and looking at their cell phones. This does not make up for the lack of comfort found in the flow of the dialogue. The addition of the nudity and graphic sex scene seemed nothing more than an attempt to shock the audience, moving past the point of its effectiveness.
The true triumph belongs to the brilliant lighting and sound duo of Eric Southern and Daniel Kluger. Southern’s lighting is a beautifully dynamic work, giving a simple and natural effect of time passing in one moment and abruptly switching to a jarring light to grasp the viewer back into the action. Putting Boyce's windows to great use, Southern brings the sunlight into the room the way day breaks through the window panes in our own homes. Then like movie magic, he steals the sun away from us just moments later. The addition of Kluger’s suspenseful and well placed sound keeps most of the audience awake enough to witness the conclusion of the story.
The Correspondent tries to keep us guessing to the end and does succeed in holding onto its secret, but the journey causes some of the audience to disengage.
Opening night is set for Thursday, February 13th and the show will run through Sunday, March 16th at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, west of Seventh Avenue South, between West 11 and Perry Streets.Review by Paul David Morin