Close-up interrogation in ‘The Letters’
Mark Montgomery and Kate Fry in "The Letters" at Writers’ Theatre. | Photo by Michael Brosilow
Writers’ Theatre presents ‘The Letters’
7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 6 p.m. Sundays, through March 3
Books on Vernon, 664 Vernon Ave., Glencoe
Updated: November 28, 2012 1:56PM
A play set in 1930’s Russia still resonates today.
That’s because John W. Lowell’s “The Letters”at Writers’ Theatre deals with how a private indiscretion can impact a public figure.
Director Kimberly Senior and co-stars Kate Fry and Mark L. Montgomery all compared it to the current scandal involving former CIA Director David Petraeus.
Montgomery plays the director of a government bureau; Fry is Anna, an employee called into his office. “It starts out as a casual interview and grows into something far more dangerous,” Senior said.
Senior reported that Lowell was partly inspired by reading a book about Tchaikovsky, in which it was revealed that his letters had been edited because they were smutty. “The Russian officials didn’t want to tarnish the reputation of the beloved and famous composer.”
At the same time, the playwright was reading a book about the President Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal and wondering how their indiscretion could have “brought our entire government to its knees,” Senior said.
Montgomery’s character in “The Letters” is only known as the Director. “I’m the guy in authority,” he said. After Anna arrives in his office, it soon becomes clear that the Director is trying to pull specific information from her.
“There’s a lot of tactics employed to gain her confidence or intimidate her,” Montgomery said. “It’s a cat and mouse kind of thing.”
“On paper, my character is a woman who is smart, articulate, polite — trying to remain anonymous in an increasingly paranoid world,” Fry said. “Her anonymity is very important to her because I think she sees anonymity as the key to personal freedom. I don’t know how successful she is in that.”
Montgomery considers the play’s themes universal. “The idea of surveillance and people falling victim to something that wasn’t really of their making,” he said. “Or getting caught up in something because they happen to be involved in a peripheral way is always relevant.”
“The play is a fantastic two-hander,” Senior said. “The lights come up and then they’re trapped in a room for 70 minutes.”
The director believes that Writers’ compact space enhances this production. “The simplicity and nuance that you’re afforded in that space works really well for what’s a very intellectually-driven interrogation piece,” she said.
“I can’t imagine doing [this show] in a proscenium,” Fry added. “To watch somebody try to lie and then cover up a lie from two feet away is much more interesting than having to sit 50 feet back and have them telegraph it by shouting their lines. There’s a voyeuristic quality to the convention of this production that is very appropriate.”
When we spoke to Senior, she had just watched a preview performance. She noted, “At every little turn and twist, you hear these little gasps and murmurs of delight from the audience.”