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A CurtainUp Review
The Corresondent
Jordan G. Teicher
" The worst thing is not knowing. If I could just know, maybe some of the pain would go. Guess I lack true faith."— Philip
Thomas Jay Ryan and Heather Alicia Simms
Losing a loved one does strange things to people. There may be no better case study than well-to-do Boston lawyer Philip Graves (Thomas Jay Ryan), the protagonist in Ken Urban's new play, The Correspondent, now at Rattlestick Theater. After his wife Charlotte dies in an accident, Philip embarks on a quest for absolution that, whether real or imagined, is highly disturbing. The result is a journey governed by supernaturalism that rarely feels natural and driven by emotion that rarely feels genuine.

The recently widowed Philip sets the play in motion when he hires Mirabel (Heather Alicia Sims), a younger, supposedly terminally ill African American woman, to deliver a message to his wife in the afterlife. But what begins as a sad, if unusual, scenario quickly takes on darker, more uncomfortable undertones. Mirabel, it turns out, is not the ailing messenger she claims to be and Philip, in striking up a romance with Mirabel so shortly after his wife's death, proves he's pretty far from the heartbroken mourner he says he is.

It's not the last inconsistency in Philip's story or character as we learn later on when Mirabel and Philip start to build a new life together in his posh Beacon Hill row house (designed with admirable precision by Andrew Boyce). But a mystery threatens to disrupt this speedy and unlikely union. Philip has been receiving letters under his door that seem like they only could have been written by Charlotte. Phillip, apparently glad to have been relieved of his grief, wants to let the matter go, but Mirabel is determined to find out who's behind it.

When she finds the young man (Jordan Geiger) responsible, it's her own undoing. The man seems to possess Charlotte's spirit, and Phillip, desperate to be forgiven for his sins, accepts him almost unquestionably. As quickly as she was taken in, Mirabel is cast aside. Relationships, it turns out, come and go as quickly as our sense of reality in this tale, which we are meant to understand serves as a reflection of Philip's grief-stricken psyche. But the plot twists are so fantastical here, and the behavior so deplorable and unpredictable, we find it hard as an audience to find footing, moral or otherwise.

The play's primary effect, then, is one of disorientation. Moments that transcend this feeling, usually aided by Eric Southern's gorgeous lighting or Daniel Kluger's sound, are scarce. Performances by Geiger and Sims similarly, can't overcome underdeveloped roles that are, by their nature, prop pieces for Philip's fantasies.

The story ends on a note so abrupt and shocking it's enough to throw into question the seriousness of an endeavor that was already questionable. Are we really meant to feel for Philip? Condemn him? Laugh at him? Is this an earnest meditation on grief or a twisted Twilight Zone morality tale? Either Urban hasn't decided, or his intentions have somehow been lost in translation. Questions beg to be answered at the end of The Correspondent regardless, but you might be too exasperated to attempt them.

The Correspondent
Written by Ken Urban
Directed by Stephen Brackett
Cast: Jordan Geiger (Young Man), Thomas Jay Ryan (Philip Graves), Heather Alicia Simms (Mirabel)
Set Design: Andrew Boyce
Lighting Design: Eric Southern
Sound Design: Daniel Kluger
Props Designers: Ricola Willie, Julia Moreno
Production Manager: Eugenia Furneaux
Production Stage Manager: John Crotty
Running Time: 90 minutes
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, New York, NY 10014 (866) 811-4111
Beginning 1/29/2014, opening 2/13/2014, closing 3/16/2014
Performance times: Monday and Wednesday at 7pm, Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm
Ticket cost: $10-$55
Reviewed by Jordan G. Teicher at 2/8/2014 performance.
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