First and foremost, reserve your tickets! Don’t miss this show! The story of The Correspondent seemed simple enough: Philip Grave’s (Thomas Jay Ryan) wife of many years has died and, in his intense sadness, he contacts a service that sends a dying person to take a message to the other side. I thought at best it would be a great character study and at worst a slightly plausible ghost story. But that set-up just gets you to the starting gate….fasten your seat-belts! I could not look away. The writing (Ken Urban) is first class; I can’t remember the last time I saw anything half as good. To say it was surprising is to cheapen the experience; it was more like a mystery that slowly unfolds. I did not sit there trying to guess what was going to happen, nor was I fooled into thinking one thing and finding out another, because no one in this piece is hiding.
Before the show even started I was transported by the set by Andrew Boyce and lighting by Eric Southern. The light coming through the windows into the main character (Philips) living room was so real I forgot that it was already night when I entered the theater. The ivy that clings to the brick just outside the window seems alive. How do we know this? There are even a few brown leaves.
There is something creepy about Mr. Philip Graves, or is it that he is just part of the menacing sizzle created by the cast and crew of The Correspondent? The director (Stephen Brackett) keeps the tension up to the finish line. The revelations that lead up to the end linger. Things slowly dawn on us; no tricks, no rabbits coming out of magical hats.
At one moment Philip comes out in the shirt he wore the day his wife died. At first I was not sure if it was a gift she gave him of her first tie-dye or a bloody shirt. But as he entered in the shirt, I did not know where his sadness would lead him; was he going to cry or commit some violence?
Mirabel (Heather Alicia Simms) is marvelous as the dying woman hired to hear and deliver Philip’s message to his wife. Her believability lies in her character’s slowness to trust. The writing (Ken Urban) and directing (Stephen Brackett) frame her great acting. After Philip’s wife’s death, Maribel is the story’s catalyst, first by entering Philip’s life and later by design. She is the character most able to move towards change; we get to see this dawn on her as it is slowly revealed to us.
Philip is the anchor around which the other two characters revolve. He moves like a broken man; heavy and sad, and at first we feel sorry for him. Philip is both controlling and easily swayed. Thomas Jay Ryan’s Philip is richly nuanced; he deftly plays the unlikeable with great skill. He is the rock the other actors rappel from.
“Young man” (Jordan Geiger) is riveting; I couldn’t stop watching him. His “young man” is a double-sided character that remains mysterious and multilayered from beginning to end. I bonded with him as we do when we see someone whose character is completely charismatic. Mr. Geiger moves like a dream; I think I could watch him fold laundry. The Correspondent’s brilliance is a seamless combination of artists at work, both on and offstage, great writing by Ken Urban and spot-on directing by Stephen Brackett.
The Correspondent – By Ken Urban; directed by Stephen Brackett
WITH: Thomas Jay Ryan (Philip Graves), Heather Alicia Simms (Mirabel) and Jordan Geiger (young man)
Set design Andrew Boyce; costume design Jessica Pabst; lighting design Eric Southern ; sound design Daniel Kluger ; props designers Ricola Willie and Julia Moreno; fight director UnkleDave’s Fight-House; production manager Eugenia Furneaux; production stage manager John Crotty; assistant stage manager Taylor Alyssa Marun publicity Don Summa, Richard Kornberg & Assoc.; casting by Calleri Casting; graphic design Achilles Lavidis; cover image Kevin Thomas Garcia. Presented by RATTLESTICK PLAYWRIGHTS THEATER and Playhouse Theatre, 224 Waverly Place, Manhattan. 866-811-4111, www.rattlestick.org, Through March 16 Running time: 1 hour 30 min.