The production values were high, the acting was solid, but the script by Jon Robin Baitz didn’t live up to the efforts of the artists involved in The Paris Letter. Essentially the play lacked dramatic tension, with a murky plot line which at times became ludicrous. Gore Vidal meets Barbara Cartland?
The story begins with the adroit suicide of Burt (Damian Sommerland) and then tells in flashback the story behind several lives. Anton (Peter Cousens) flamboyantly, unashamedly camp, narrates and sometimes steps into the action which revolves around Sandy (Nicholas Papademetriou) over four decades, beginning in the sixties.
Sandy is a Jewish financier, who in his youth (young Sandy is played by Caleb Alloway) meets Anton and begins a three month affair with him. Torn between his need to conform and his nature, Sandy opts to ‘overcome’ his homosexuality through psychotherapy with Dr. Shiffman (also played by Papademetriou). Sandy ‘gives up’ Anton but the pair remain good friends for forty years! Anton introduces Sandy to Katie (Susie Lindman) and they marry. Kate has a gay son, Sam (and Anton is his godfather).
Burt is an attractive up and coming young man and the person Sandy chooses for a financial protégé, so he can retire. Burt botches the finances and makes a massive 100 million dollar debt. We are now back at the beginning of the play. A little confused? No doubt. Sandy counsels Burt to commit suicide as the only way out – which Burt obediently takes and Sandy runs overseas supposedly to pay debts and retrieve the last of the family’s diamond stashes. Meanwhile Kate gets cancer and Sandy’s letter from Paris reveals that Anton was the true love of his life. Katie dies and Anton goes to Paris to his own true love and kills him with poisoned brandy.
There are so many holes and leaps of faith in the play it is hard to stay focused. WHY is a word which keeps coming to mind. Why did Burt kill himself when he had money stashed in overseas accounts? Why did Anton kill the man he loved? Why did so many people love Sandy who is a selfish and ego driven individual? Why didn’t the playwright enlarge on the interesting moral aspects of the play and the social happenings of the periods rather than continue it (it was a long two hours) in its soap opera meanderings?
Roles are doubled and the actors forge valiantly in this morass of twisted moral compasses.The best scene of the night was between Alloway as young Sandy and Lindeman, playing his knowing mother. Production Designer Michael Hankin also does a lovely job recreating the milieu of New York in the sixties with an excellent, versatile set and period true costuming.
Well produced, well directed by Stephen Colyer and largely well acted – shame about the script!