nytheatre.com review by Lisa Ferber
May 20, 2007
Hate Mail is a play by Bill Corbett and Kira Obolensky told entirely through the reading of letters. A privileged Minneapolis fellow, Preston (Jason Cicci, who is terrific and has wonderful voice and elocution), buys a badly made snowglobe from surly photographer-slash-New York-salesclerk Dahlia (Danielle Ferland, effectively difficult as called for). When the snowglobe breaks in transit, Preston writes to request a refund, and is denied. At this point, he and Dahlia begin a nasty correspondence with each other, resulting in Dahlia losing her job. They entice each other with the kinds of letters that are both flirtatious and nasty: "While your recent letter positively dripped with condescension, it was amusing in an anthropological sense." "I know when you live on top of Mount Selfish it's hard to see the little people."
The correspondence continues, Preston goes on meds and gets involved in a spiritual journey, Dahlia gets into a new line of work, both parties change their living situations, and, pretty soon, they meet. What occurs is a show where situations can change at a moment's notice, and hate can turn to love and right back into hate. This is not a couple one has any reason to root for, as neither of them seems particularly interested in love or really in each other, but that doesn't make it any less fun to watch.
This is a good production with much talent involved. There is clever writing, tight direction, and dedicated acting. The aspect of this that could have been softened was the level of yelling and angry dialogue. The "bickering couple" genre of comedy is popular, but I think it works best when the "love" and the "hate" are somewhat balanced. As is, Hate Mail offers significantly more hate then love, and it does at times get difficult to sit and watch two people who are so angry. A bit more fondness for each other, and at least attempts at reconciliations during the "hate" scenes would have given more variety to parts that otherwise can just feel sort of like nonstop anger. I also wished there was some way to get around listening to two people furiously typing for a few minutes straight, as we do during the email scene.
What works are when the dynamic ebbs and flows, when it shows how hate can turn to interest, interest can turn to love, love can turn to boredom or hate. The ending, which I won't give away, is perfectly sexy, and points out exactly what got these two people involved in the first place.