REVIEW: You’ll Love ‘Hate Mail’ From Moline’s Black Box Theatre
You already want a ticket, don’t you?
Go. Reserve those tickets. I’ll wait.
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It’s You’ve Got Mail gone wrong, gone filthy and gone 2020.
You need to add it to your weekend plans.
You’ll thank me later.
Written by Bill Corbett and Kira Obolensky, ‘Hate Mail’ is a bitchy, sardonic and bitingly romantic (?) comedy featuring two characters – Preston Dennis Jr. (the always incredible Matt Walsh) and Dahlia Markle (a super funny Wendy Czekalski) – who sit at individual tables on opposite sides of the stage reading their witty (and at times heartfelt) correspondences to each other while never actually interacting or making any eye contact. On paper this shouldn’t work for 90 minute stage show but the writing is so sharp and the performers are so good that somehow, somehow it does.
Perhaps it’s because we just came out of an entire year of no real in-person social interaction so we can relate? Perhaps it’s because after a year of constant chaos we all are all slap happy and we don’t care what gets us there? Whatever it is, The Black Box has nailed the timing and execution of this piece.
And the success of ‘Hate Mail’ starts before the show even begins. I’m all about ambience and atmosphere and there is subtle yet important touch The Black Box consistently brings to the table and it’s a “pre-show.”
I hesitate to use that term but that’s what it feels like? The sound track is ALWAYS putting you in the mood for the show and the stage is always interestingly lit. It’s not a big deal and something most people gloss over but I ALWAYS appreciate the effort. The theatre going experience begins the minute you walk in the door and Lora and company always deliver the vibe king before the actors hit the stage.
Once the actors DO hit the stage, the quick 90 minute show takes quick emotional turns north and south and east and west and continually surprises you in “Awwwww” ways and “Ohhhhhh” ways and I dig the dichotomy between the two. I hesitate to give anything more about the plot away as – if you’re like me and haven’t seen ‘Hate Mail’ – part of the fun was not ever knowing which way we were heading. Far from predictable, it makes for a fun and surprising evening (or afternoon) at the theatre. It’s unique and different than anything you’ll see this summer and it’s the right thing at the right time.
As good as the script is, we all know that in the wrong hands ANYTHING can turn into a disaster. Thankfully – and unsurprisingly – there’s no disaster in sight. Director Lora Adams and her two stars Matt Walsh and Wendy Czekalski find the perfect balance between comedy and drama and happiness and sadness and personal highs and lows and hit a sweet spot that is extremely hard to find (especially when reading from a script). And that sweet spot is honesty and believability. Czekalski – one of my favorite area performers – shines here by letting the material guide her which was a smart move as if she would have tried to force anything more it may have felt disingenuous. Walsh – who is becoming one of my favorite area performers – brings his incredible dynamics to the literal and figurative table and fully breathes mental and physical life into a role while sitting down for 90 minutes. They are – to quote Willem Dafoe – “pretending with authority” – and what more can you really ask for?
The Black Box consistently delivers and does this level of work with what is essentially a reader’s theatre piece and it’s wild. It’s pretty damn impressive, right?. I can’t wait to see what they can do as the local arts settle into the new normal and get back to upping the artistic stakes for themselves and their guests. You better believe Lora, David and company at The Black Box will always be on my “Must See List.”
Laughter IS the medicine we NEED and The Black Box has it for you in spades!