Review by Aaron Riccio
The intricate elegance of Letter Purloined deserves a review written in twenty-six lines which can be read in any order. It should be a metacritical review, one that constantly refers to the structure of the piece itself, using wonderfully oblique metaphors like golf. It should also serve as a form of psychotherapy, drawing on the sex dreams of Freud, the language of Derrida, and the works of both Edgar Allen Poe and Shakespeare. Of course, this would require a lot of work on my part -- and a near-genius capacity for post-modernism. For this reason, I prefer to just highly recommend David Isaccson's Letter Purloined and to extol the talent of Theater Oobleck, the group that performs it, sans director.
The plot applies the mash-up philosophy of albums like "The Gray Album" and runs two concurrent beats: Poe's detective story about a stolen letter and Shakespeare's classic tragedy of a certain Moor (and we don't mean a dock). In this version, a sinister minister named Ogai frames General Cassio by stealing a letter sent from him to King Navodar's wife, Queen Diri. It's best if you're familiar with the conceit: the show is performed in a random order every night, and figuring out the twists and deviations is great fun for the bohemian surveyor. The one annoyance is that Cassio speaks as if he's a Casio keyboard. Get it? The joke doesn't stretch for the two-plus hours of the show, even though Colm O'Reilly is a good imitator; thankfully, characters and transitions clarify his subtext often enough for story to still work.
There's so much other stuff to praise though: Isaccson (who also plays the insecure, soft-spoken king) manages to make difficult literary theory not only comprehensible but funny, and just wait until you see how he incorporates psychoanalysis into Queen Diri's manic and overwhelming personality. The actors also deliver this purposely convoluted story with full bravura and intonations of significance.
Aside from being a novelty, a show that can boast of cramming Kofi Annan and Lacan into the same breath, Letter Purloined is also a rich, deep metadrama. It's intellectual, it's not very sexual, and it's not full of over-the-top action: it is the anti-Fringe Fringe show. It's also a must-see, and I certainly hope this play finds producers willing to take it to the next level.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.