Monthly Archive for: ‘April, 2014’

THE LETTERS an Alfred Hitchcock type thriller at Aurora.

Anna (Beth Wilmurt) plays a dangerous game of cat and mouse with The Director (Michael Ray Wisely*) in Aurora Theatre Company’s Professional Bay Area Premiere of The Letters. Photo by Sarah Roland

The Letters: Drama by John W. Lowell.  Directed by Mark Jackson. Aurora Theatre Company, Harry’s UpStage in the Dashow Wing, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA. (510) 843-4822 or at www.auroratheatre.org. Professional Bay Area Premiere. April 24, 2014 – May 25, 2014.

THE LETTERS an Alfred Hitchcock type thriller at Aurora. Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3 of 5 stars)


THE LETTERS plays now through June 8 (added performances: Wednesday, June 4, 8pm; Thursday, June 5, 8pm; Friday, June 6, 8pm; Saturday, June 7, 8pm; Sunday, June 8, 2pm) at Harry’s UpStage at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley.

In the era of black and white TV reception a popular show was Alfred Hitchcock Presents that played for one half hour (including a commercial) and inexorably built suspense with the bad guy (or girl) getting his comeuppance. The 75 minute two-hander, The Letters by John W. Lowell, is reminiscent of that era and at the same time can be considered a modern morality play for present times even though the action is set in 1935 Russia.

During that time the oppressive government engaged in wholesale spying on every level of the populous. There was strict censorship with bureaus set up to enforce the party rules and expunge any hint of “aberrant” behavior. Homosexuality was considered aberrant. This created a dilemma since an internationally famous music composer (think Tchaikovsky) had written letters that contained explicit sexual references. In an attempt to keep this from the world those letters, the driving force in the play, were heavily censored.

Anna (Beth Wilmurt) a low level worker in a censorship bureau has been summoned to the office of the Director (Michael Ray Wisely) ostensibly to be told of her elevation as head of that department. An apparently friendly, but guarded, interchange between the two starts out as casual conversation and gradually escalates into a pointed interrogation about copies of those letters that are missing.

The initially mousy demeanor of Anna undergoes subtle changes from insecurity, shock and disbelief to strength and control. Beth Williams captures those moods matching Michael Ray Wisely’s increasing personality changes from friendly supervisor who came up through the ranks of the military, to inquisitional leader threatening violence and finally to abject fear.

The play takes place in the confined space of the director’s office complete with photos of Stalin and Lenin on the walls and the characters dressed in period clothing (Ashley Rogers). Auteur Mark Jackson is listed as the director but there are no distinctive directorial conceits usually seen in his productions.   

This play inaugurates the company’s new 55 seat second stage performance space named Harry’s UpStage. The steeply raked seating area, which can be taken down for their café shows, allows excellent vision to the non-elevated performing area. Running time 75 minutes without intermission.

Harry’s upstage at Aurora

Cast: Beth Wilmurt as Anna; Michael Ray Wisely as Director

Designers & Crew: Lighting Designer, Joe D’Emilio; Costume Designer, Ashley Rogers; Set Designer, Maya Linke; Properties, Kirsten Royston; Stage Manager, Susan M. Reamy.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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