The English author John Fowles’ acclaimed debut novel The Collector was published in 1963. The 28-year-old, socially awkward butterfly collector and municipal clerk Frederick Clegg is the protagonist. After winning a large sum of money in a lottery, he quits his job and buys a secluded country house two hours distance from London.
Clegg had become obsessed with the pretty and privileged 19-year-old art student, Miranda Grey, and he chloroforms, abducts and imprisons her in his new house’s basement. What follows is a psychological and sociological thriller as Fowles’ aim was to explore class and intellectual differences in English society.
Legendary Hollywood film director William Wyler was enamored of the novel and directed a lauded film adaptation of it in 1965. Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar received great praise and awards for their performances in it.
British playwright Mark Healy’s stage adaptation of The Collector was first performed in Great Britain in 1998, and it has been presented there regionally and internationally. This is its New York City premiere.
Healy’s treatment is faithful to the novel with a good deal of it being Clegg’s narration addressed to the audience. There are lengthy conversations between Miranda and Clegg, and her escape attempts are depicted. No matter how skillful Healy’s stage version is, it’s still two hours of often-philosophical talk between two characters in an unpleasant situation.
There is also the fact that since The Collector was written over 50 years ago, its hostage plot device has become a staple of films, television and theater. Stephen King’s Misery with Kathy Bates’ award winning performance and Emma Donoghue’s Room which won Brie Larson this year’s Academy Award for Best Actress come right to mind.
Tall, bearded, bespectacled, bald, and slightly paunchy American Matt de Rogatis is visually and verbally perfect as Clegg. Mr. de Rogatis is an experienced New York classical actor and his British accent is flawless. His whiny and slightly working class intonations richly convey the background and mentality of the character.
The blonde and appealing Australian actress Jillian Geurts is captivating and formidable as Miranda. Ms. Geurts wonderfully achieves the requisite girlishness, innocence and terror of the role. She and de Rogatis have a great offbeat chemistry together that goes far in realizing this difficult material.
Director Lisa Milizanno’s staging is as resourceful as possible. Ms. Milinazzo has devised a varying placement of the actors in this confined space that yields a modicum of visual interest. There are well-choreographed fight scenes coordinated by Greg Pragel and an expressively uneasy seduction sequence.
In the center of the very small runway stage is scenic designer Jessie Bonaventure’s assemblage of basic furnishings of a bed, tables, chairs, a bar table and wall pipes. A neat touch is the paper butterflies that eerily adorn the opposite black walls of the three-sided playing area. The hermetic effect of it all is very successful.
Steve Wolf’s lighting design is suitably murky creating an uneasy mood. With his tinny and creepy original score, proficient sound designer Sean Hagerty’s efforts add to the claustrophobia.
Clegg is a photographer and Mr. Wolf’s technical design has his photographs stealthily taken of Miranda projected as a slide show on an area of the wall above the bed. This adds some needed liveliness.
Costume designer Blair Wear provides a well-chosen drab ensemble to complement Clegg’s nerdiness. For Miranda, Ms. Wear’s realistic selections include a college girl outfit and later lavish dresses for her during captivity.
With all of its fine points, The Collector is ultimately an inert experience due to its inherent structure and a missing spark. Jolting directorial flourishes, inventive authorial theatrical solutions, and more charisma from the technically accomplished actors would be among the hypothetical enhancements.
The Collector (through November 13, 2016)
Nine Theatricals & Roebuck Theatrical
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit to http://www.59e59.org
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission