by Ron Cohen · February 14, 2014
Caught up in grief and guilt, the man finds on the Internet a service that offers to deliver messages to the dead via terminally ill persons. Graves contacts the service and as the play begins -- two weeks after his wife‘s funeral -- he is in his apartment, meeting with the potential messenger, an unprepossessing woman who appears to be facing the imminent end of her harsh life with equanimity. The woman named Mirabel is convincing enough that Philip hires her. He hands her a wad of cash for payment; she tells him he’ll be notified by e-mail when his message has been delivered, and off she goes into the night.
Granted it’s a situation that requires quite a lot of suspension of disbelief, but Stephen Brackett’s taut direction, and Thomas Jay Ryan’s depiction of a man whose sense of logic is drowning in sorrow, made the situation acceptable to me. Also helping was the convincing aura of both sincerity and unease projected by Heather Alicia Simms as Mirabel.
However, this deal between Philip and Mirabel is only the start of Urban’s maze of a plot. And things grow increasingly convoluted, you might even say preposterous, once a mysterious young man appears on the scene delivering letters that appear to have been written by Philips’ wife from beyond. As the plot developments coiled and uncoiled, I found myself growing less and less willing to be taken in.
Urban’s writing touches on many themes, including homophobia, racism, belief in an afterlife and the true meaning of love beyond the corporeal. However, he seems mainly concerned in beguiling us with his plotting, and the somewhat jokey manner in which he ends the play made me wonder if he meant for us to take any of it seriously.
Still there’s no denying that Urban, whose earlier play The Awake, was well received in a New York production last summer, can write an arresting scene. And Rattlestick has given this new work an admirable production. In addition to the fine performances of Ryan and Simms, Jordan Geiger invests the young man with a discomforting mixture of sincerity and malice. Given the tight space of the Rattlestick stage, Andrew Boyce’s set nicely suggests the comfortable apartment of a successful Boston attorney, while Eric Southern’s film noir lighting and Daniel Kluger’s mysterioso sound design make it the kind of place where supernatural occurrences could well happen, even if you might not believe them.