Writers’ Theatre: “The Letters”

When you get called into the Director’s office in 1930s Russia, it probably isn’t to get good news.

And from the first time the audience sees the nervous Anna, we know that she isn’t in her boss’ office to share a cup of tea and a little gossip. Yet when the Director, his only name in the play, enters that’s what he proposes. A chat. A possible promotion.

Thus begins what is sure to be a hit for Writers’ Theatre and beyond.

The tension surges as the audience and Anna learn what is at stake, and why she is in the Director’s office. Without giving too much of the plot away—because part of the delicious pleasure of this play is discovering the twists as Anna uncovers them—the letters in the title are the problem and the bait.

The two lead actors in “The Letters” are Kate Fry and Mark L. Montgomery, both experienced actors whose performances escalate with the revelations. Fry starts the play as a demure widow who works as an editor and lives a quiet life. As the plot quickly unfolds, she visibly changes. Anna becomes a complex, nuanced character and the more we care about her, the more danger she is in. Her opponent in the action, played by Montgomery, equals her in revelations. On his side, we think we know the bureaucrat who holds the power, but Montgomery and his character have much more complexity by the end.

The play, written by John W. Lowell and directed by Kimberly Senior, is a brisk 75 minutes. It was a delight to see a production not bloated or dragging—this production is the antithesis of “The Iceman Cometh” and its long 5-hour slog. It’s staged in the very compact space behind Books on Vernon, so the audience is literally in the Director’s office for the whole play.

Writers’ worked with Lowell and Senior over the past year on an intensive workshop process to refine the play. It was a worthy investment, and the resulting tension-filled play is one that will appeal to audiences who love theater and nuanced performances, as well as to those who are simply fans of a good thriller.

 

“The Letters” runs through March 3 at Writers’ Theatre, 664 Vernon Ave., Glencoe. Tickets cost $60 and can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 847-242-6000.