Letters to the End of the World

Out of Africa comes a sentimental tale of two worlds.

  • AFRICAN QUEEN Choy-Kee, left, endures hardship in the developing world.

AFRICAN QUEEN Choy-Kee, left, endures hardship in the developing world.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Africa is more an idea than a place in Anton Dudley’s thoughtful if overwrought Letters to the End of the World. Todd (Charles Socarides), a gay New York grad student, becomes obsessed with the beleaguered continent after starting a correspondence with Agnatha (Shannon Burkett), an American journalist volunteering in Zambia. Convinced that Africa will offer redemption for his overprivileged life or salvation from his limping relationship with boyfriend Bryan (Peter O’Connor), Todd moves to Agnatha’s village. Africa does save him, but not in the way he expected: He travels so far only to learn that coziest of lessons—that home is where the heart is.

The action alternates between scenes in Manhattan and Zambia, punctuated by epistolary monologues from the pen pals (each beginning “Dear Todd” or “Dear Agnatha”). Dudley’s African scenes are much more absorbing, mostly thanks to Francesca Choy-Kee as Ms. Mwando, a Zambian schoolteacher painted in thick brushstrokes but etched into a nuanced portrait by this capable actor. By comparison, Todd and Bryan’s exchanges feel stilted and their relationship hard to believe, much less care about.

And scenes in both locales fall victim to an overdose of aphorism (“We only hurt each other when we disconnect”), grand ideas (“Eternity will last forever”) and heavy-handed symbols. There are brave inquiries into love and loss, but a lighter touch is needed to bring out the complexities and contradictions of this emotional (and geographical) terrain.

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Studio Theatre at Theatre Row. Written and directed by Anton Dudley. With ensemble cast. 1hr 50mins. One intermission.