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The Letters at Writers’ Theatre | Theater review

Kate Fry and Mark L. Montgomery captivate in this Soviet cat-and-mouse piece, but John W. Lowell’s script leaves us wanting.

Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Mark L. Montgomery and Kate Fry in The Letters at Writers' Theatre

John W. Lowell’s bureaucratic cat-and-mouse game, set in 1931 in an unnamed Russian city, benefits from two expertly modulated performances in Kimberly Senior’s production. Yet despite Mark L. Montgomery and Kate Fry’s compelling work, the piece feels a bit meandering even at 80 minutes. Fry plays Anna Borisovna, a mousy midlevel editor in a Soviet ministry of censorship. She’s called into the office of the director (Montgomery), a former soldier now rising through the ranks of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Montgomery projects a menacing, affected gentility in the one-act’s opening movements, batting Anna about with frustratingly vague small talk as she tries to ascertain why she’s here.

Anna, we learn, is part of a team working on redacting a series of letters written by a prominent Russian composer; their contents lasciviously describe the composer’s “aberrations.” “Pornographic,” Anna tells the director. “There’s no other word for it.” The director’s line of questioning regarding these salacious correspondences, as well as the widowed, seemingly demure Anna’s associations with her coworkers, helps Senior and her two excellent performers build a tantalizing tension. But that tension gets no satisfying release in Lowell’s script, which takes too long to reach the expected shift of power. We’re kept waiting for a grander twist that never comes.

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