If you want to see a play about the meaning and consequences of homosexuality, there is no better piece of drama than the Group Rep’s production of John Robin Baitz’ The Paris Letter, running through Sept. 2 at the in the NoHo Arts District.
The story of a Wall Street power broker who gets caught up in a financial scheme that threatens to expose his extramarital gay affairs, leaving him dangerously off-kilter and emotionally crippled is played-out over four decades, but not without wielding a heavy hammer.
This "Letter" tells of the triumphs and defeats of the human condition while all the while showing us the vulnerability, thin skin and sheer possibility of the human heart.
The play is brilliantly realized not as an homage to any one lifestyle or group of people, but to humanity in general.
Baitz’ language is specific, detailed and rich beyond measure. The imagery has little competition among modern playwrights.
Baitz, a Pulitzer Prize and Tony-nominated playwright and screenwriter, understands the travails and hurdles of being gay, and takes us on a journey to the soul of a homosexual relationship based as much on darkness and deceit as light and truth.
Yet, there is a great sincerity in the words, a humane vocabulary for such an inhumane topic.
Jules Aaron’s direction is tight, energetic and fluid, getting memorable performances from every member of the cast. The double casting is handled with subtlety and aplomb.
Larry Eisenberg (Sandy/Schiffman), a director and playwright and one of the Group Rep’s Co-Artistic Directors along with Chris Winfield, proves more than capable as an actor. His Sandy is a wickedly emotional powder keg of a performance. He is convincing as the psychiatrist Dr. Schiffman.
Read an interview with Aaron and Eisenberg about the play:
Julia Silverman (Katie/Lillian) is deeply compassionate and affecting. Her characters contrast beautifully.
Dan Sykes (Sam/Young Sandy), who recently played Ty Cobb in the Group Rep’s production of "Cobb," shows another side of himself here as the floundering and eternally conflicted Young Sandy. His vulnerability and courage in taking risks on stage shine.
Alex Parker (Burt/Young Anton) gives a powerful performance as the Young Anton that inspires as much as makes you examine your choices in life. His Burt is genuine and down-to-earth.
Paul Cady (Waiter) makes a cameo role come to life. A role with such little stage time becomes something of much larger import.
But once more () it is Lloyd Pedersen (Anton Kilgallen) who runs away with the show. His naturally effeminate grace and wisdom guide the play through uncharted waters. His calm, unflappable demeanor as narrator make the play what it is: potent, plausible, paradoxical and profound.
The play is aided by the set design of Winfield, the lighting design of J. Kent Inasy, the sound design of Steve Shaw and the costume design of Liz Nankin.
The Group Rep is the second company in California to be granted rights to a full production and run of The Paris Letter.
The first was the world premiere run from December 13, 2004-January 2, 2005 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, CA.
All in all, The Paris Letter takes a difficult subject and makes it more easily comprehended, not because it has to, but because it wants to.
If the Group Rep continues diving beneath the surface for plays of this caliber, it might well begin an unprecedented run as not only one of the best theater companies in the city, but the country as well.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601
Tickets: $15-$22 (Admission : $22; Senior/Student: $17; Group 10+:$15)
Friday Night Ladies Night-Tickets Half Price for ladies
Reservations: (818) 763-5990
Running Time: Two hours plus one intermission