The spectacle of ominous, hooded white-jump suited masked stagehands breaking down scenery amidst jarring lighting and thunderous music following a tepid 20-minute Jean Cocteau’s The Human Voice-style monologue is a welcome detour in playwright and performer Ngozi Anyanwu’s half-baked and inconsequential The Last of the Love Letters.
When the audience arrives, Ms. Anyanwu (who is billed as “You”) is silently milling about scenic designer Yu-Hsuan Chen’s compact grimy apartment setting. Through indicative lighting the actual show begins and Anyanwu continues with acting school-type exercises such as making the bed and playing phonograph records. She sits on the bed and haltingly begins her tirade against an ex-lover. Anyanwu possesses a charming and sunny presence which struggles to transcend her pretentious and unremarkable writing.
I can’t be everything I can’t be your Lover Your friend Advisor Your therapist Your muse Your inspiration Your cumbucket The suppository for your dreams Your fears Your insecurities Your fantasies Your ghost writer Your assistant Your mother Your scapegoat Your excuse you didn’t succeed I’m not an excuse I’m no solution I’m no answer I’m nothing …
We’re transported to Ms. Chen’s boldly oppressive spacious prison set with bars, an austere bed, a urinal, a tank to vomit in, and a retractable metal staircase for a menacing authority figure to descend from. Here, we meet the incarcerated “You No.2,” the male who gives his side of the romantic breakup during a cryptic and histrionic 40 minutes. We gradually realize he’s an artist being held in a government mental institution for crimes against the state. The finale strives for an emotionally resonant Twilight Zone-style twist ending, but it doesn’t make much impact, like the rest of this synthetic play.
Anyway, you’re probably not even thinking about me You’re probably living this beautiful life Without me I don’t like to think about that But I am told It’s important To base myself in reality Reality The world or the state of things as they actually exist, Re-ali-ty As opposed to an idealistic idea Re-al-li-ty A thing that exists in fact, having previously only existed in one’s mind…
A Tony Award nominee for his portrayal of Ike Turner in Tina, and a veteran of nine Broadway shows, the charismatic Daniel J. Watts plays the pitiable man. Though at times pushing, Mr. Watts delivers an admirable and engaging performance considering the deficient material. The blue-uniformed and masked Xavier Scott Evans is appealing during his appearances as “Person,” the stern guard.
After the feeble opening, director Patricia McGregor does manage to bring verve and some captivating stagecraft to the production which is amplified by lighting designer Stacey Derosier and sound designer Twi McCallum’s deft contributions. Dede Ayite’s artful costume design evokes the desired dystopian vibe.
Harold Pinter’s One for the Road and Wallace Shawn’s The Designated Mourner, both offer searing, visceral and detailed dramatizations of repressive brutal political regimes. The Last of the Love Letters is a hollow and superficial take on such subject matter.
The Last of the Love Letters (through September 26, 2021)
Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-989-7996 or visit http://www.atlantictheater.org
Running time: 70 minutes without an intermission