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If there’s one business that WON’T have dissatisfied customers demanding a refund, it’s the Williamston Theatre. And it has “Hate Mail” to thank for it.
No, not the kind of nasty correspondence that’s delivered by the post office – although I predict the theater won’t get any of that, either. Rather, I’m referring to the comedy starring Aral Gribble and Hallie Bee Bard that opened March 14 – and the thoroughly delightful night of theater guarantees accolades, not brickbats, for the intimate mid-Michigan theater.
An epistolary play (a story told through an exchange of letters), “Hate Mail” opens with complainant Preston Dennis Jr. (Gribble) reading a letter he’s sent to The Big Apple Shop in New York City where he bought a snow globe. It broke during his trip home to Minnesota, and now he wants his money back. What he gets, however, is a short, curt reply from Dahlia Markle (Bard), the store’s assistant manager. “No refunds,” she says.
So the spoiled trust fund brat declares war on the disdainful would-be photographer, never suspecting where their war of words would lead them.
Often described as the antithesis of “Love Letters,” (another epistolary play that, coincidentally, is now playing at a suburban Detroit dinner theater), “Hate Mail” is not a happily-ever-after romance. Instead, playwrights Bill Corbett and Kira Obolensky have crafted a witty, laugh-out-load social satire that explores the ups and (mostly) downs of a toxic, hate-love-loathe relationship that never should have happened in the first place. (Has one of YOUR exes ever mailed you a dead reptile or three because you stole their Jeep after a sudden break-up? I thought not.)
And also unlike “Love Letters” (which the playwright says “is designed simply to be read aloud by an actor and an actress…sitting side by side at a table” with no memorization), director Tony Caselli has wisely instructed Gribble and Bard to learn their lines, which enables them to create interesting, complex and fully-realized characters. Thus, when Dahlia replies to Preston’s inane demands for repayment, she drips with disdain. And her reaction to receiving 13 unsolicited photos of Preston naked is priceless. (So is his.)
The result, then, are two very believable performances and nary a dull moment, thanks to Caselli’s insightful direction. But it is the delicious character development by Gribble and Dahlia that’s the true star of the show. Despite the fact that the two never talk directly TO or interact WITH one another – they’re reading letters to the audience, remember – their teamwork is superb. And once again, Gribble’s expressive face and body language serve him well in this production.
(FOR “REVIEW BOX”)
Williamston Theatre, 122 S. Putnam St., Williamston. Thu.-Sun., through March 30. Tickets: $18-$24. For information: 517-655-7469 or http://www.williamstontheatre.org.