Theatre Reviews
Sunday, July 15, 2012
You're Gonna Love the Laughs in 'Hate Mail'

By C.S. Gilbert

'You've Got Hate Mail," the Key West Summer Stage's second offering of the season, is so totally, technologically over the top that it's bound to be both hilarious reassurance and a cautionary tale for anyone with an email account.

This comedy for the e-age is performed on a "black box" set that was diagrammed at the end of the script. Director Randi Reams, a recent New College grad making her Red Barn directorial debut, told Solares Hill that it's a series of black cubes strategically placed onstage and backed by solidly black draperies. Three actors are thus elevated, flanked by the remaining two at stage level. It's a functional and effective set against which the characters and their chairs, desks or tables and laptops provide the only visual interest.

Talented local regulars Quincy Perkins, Laurie Breakwell, Tammy Shanley and Erin McKenna, along with newcomer Jack Terry, handle this well. That's a challenge, particularly since the play is structured so that the actors never really leave their office desks or armchairs. The audience is asked, however, to imagine they're at a number of other places, for example in their car or back at home.

Perkins as the central character, the philandering Richard, provides the broadest range here and Terry, as George, Richard's law firm colleague and best bud, is particularly adept at communicating an under-a-bed incident and being passed out -- OK, maybe just sound asleep. (I thought maybe he was supposed to be dead, killed by too much sex.)

Shanley, as Peg, earns praise by using posture and her position in her chair to provide an apparent contrast between office and home.

Audience collaboration is similarly required to imagine that days, months and even, at the end, a year passes without any change of costuming. This I think was a mistake (I saw a rehearsal) but Reams assures us there'll be a number of blackouts denoting the passage of time by opening night. One congratulatory cheer here: the totally seductive McKenna, as Wanda, Richard's extra-marital affair, wears the same dress throughout but nonetheless very skillfully demonstrates the ups and downs of the relationship by the order or disorder of her coiffure.

In terms of both costuming and imagining scene changes, the audience is challenged to achieve the willing suspension of disbelief required by classic tragedy. While "You've Got Hate Mail" clearly isn't quite "Oedipus Rex" or "Antigone," the very funny, very contemporary comedy does, in fact, shadow the classics. Richard definitely has a fatal flaw: while the psychological terminology isn't used -- even by Judith, the psychologist with whom they're forced into couples counseling and who is referred to by both Stephanie and Richard -- he's clearly a sex addict. Another fatal flaw is that he's also a total liar. Tragic heroes (of either gender) are supposed to have just one fatal flaw, but .... oh, well, never mind.

Trust me, any hint of tragedy is strictly in retrospect. By the time this show opens, Summer Stage will have an audience favorite on its hands. The laughs are spread liberally throughout, the actors do a fine job delivering them with both energy and finesse, and it has a most satisfying happy ending!

"You've Got Hate Mail" runs July 17 through 21 and rates three Depends.