Theater Review: The Paris Letter at the Group Rep through Sept. 12
July 26, 2012 - By Annemarie Donkin
Written by Jon Robin Baitz, The Paris Letter tells the story of a heavily closeted Wall Street broker and how the utter denial of his true sexual nature leads him to personal and financial ruin.
The Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright and screenwriter (Brothers and Sisters) wrote this play in 2004, with a compelling theme that is still being debated in the political arena today.
The Paris Letter follows the epic life of young Sandy Sonnenberg (Daniel Sykes), a Princeton grad and the only son of a Wall Street magnate and a glamorous, clingy mother who likes to go on dates with her grown son.
Sandy comes of age in 1960s New York where he is beguiled by an elegant and mysterious Village restaurateur, Anton Kilgallen (Alex Parker), who represents everything young Sandy is looking foryouth, intrigue and love.
As narrated by the older Anton (beautifully played by Lloyd Pedersen decked out in a cravat and channeling Truman Capote), the play jumps back and forth from the 1960s to 2001 as we catch up with Sandy and Anton at key points in their long relationship.
Adding to the scenic structure is the fabulous three-part stage setting by Chris Winfield that reveals and conceals scenes and characters with a series of sliding doorsthrough which we see Antons 1960s Village apartment; Antons Village restaurant; and the psychiatrists office where Sandy endures 17 excruciating years of therapy to overcome his homosexuality.
Baitz play spends nearly three hours working out the premise of Sandys conflicted sexualitymethodically squeezing every ounce of meaning out of each scene. But in the end we are finally rewarded with murder, suicide, betrayal, adultery and revenge.
To get to the interesting stuff, we must endure chatty and analytical scenes among all of the characters that weakens the dramatic arc, yet are bravely performed by the actors who wrench every last bit of emotion out of the sheer abundance of words.
Ultimately, Sandys experiment with marriage ends in a tragically unexpected way and after a lifetime of hurt and rejection, Anton, his best friend and spurned lover, seeks some measure of justice, if not outright revenge.
Baitz play is interesting yet emotionally overwrought with the best scenes, including a nude scene between Anton and Sandy, diffused with too many words.
The Paris Letter was expertly directed by the award winning Jules Aaron (LA Drama Critics Circle, among others) and produced by Patrick Burke.
The Group Rep cast features an outstanding Larry Eisenberg playing both the older Sandy Sonnenberg and also as Dr. Moritz Schiffman. Eisenberg commands the stage in every scene he is in and it is a privilege to see such a powerful performance.
Alex Parker plays the Wall Street cad, Burt Sarris and Young Anton, in a brave and energetic performance that he should be very proud of.
Julia Silverman makes the best out of an underwritten role as Katie Arlen and later, as Sandys doomed wife, Lillian Sonnenberg.
Daniel Sykes really shines as Young Sandy, who goes through years of sheer torment while he struggles with his homosexuality.
Paul Cady plays the waiter at Antons various iterations of his restaurant.
Yet, it is the incredible Lloyd Pedersen who pulls the play together as the older Anton Kilgallen in a heartbreaking performance that will stay with you long after the applause dies down.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals are still victims of hate crimes and their civil rights can still be denied, the Group Rep wrote in a statement. Gay marriage is still illegal in most states and even in the states where it is legal, married same-sex couples cannot share in those rights that are granted to married couples at the federal level.
The viewer must ultimately decide which way they feel the relationship could have gone; which becomes part of the intrigue and mystery of The Paris Letter.
The Group Rep is only the second company in California to be granted the rights to a full production and run of The Paris Letter.
The first was the world premiere run Dec. 13, 2004 through Jan. 2, 2005, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, California starring Neil Patrick Harris. The play was also produced for radio broadcast by LA Theatreworks at the Skirball Cultural Center in 2008.
The Paris Letter runs July 20 September 2, 2012. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Talkbacks with the cast are available after Sunday matinee on August 19. Tickets: $15 - $22, Ladies Night Fridays 1/2-price tickets.
Buy tickets/info:www.thegrouprep.com or (818) 763-5990.
The Lonny Chapman Theatre is located at 10900 Burbank Blvd., NoHo 91601. Warnings: Full male frontal nudity and one loud noise. Please allow at least 15 minutes to park on Burbank or Cleon Avenue just south of Burbank Boulevard. Latecomers will be held in the lobby until scene two.