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Previews: 10/29/10- Close: 11/20/10 Letter From Algeria
Reviewed for By: Heather Violanti
Randy Morrison ©2023  Patrick Murney & Amanda Jane Cooper

“The thing about leaving home is the one person who’s always with you is you” says Walter, whose study abroad dream quickly devolves into a nightmare in Letter From Algeria, Michael I. Walker’s provocative new play produced by Ground UP Productions.    

 The play focuses on a trio of American students studying in Brussels—sensitive, athletic Tim; self-dramatizing, flirty Ali; and naïve newbie Walter.  They befriend a debonair, generous older Belgian man named Hugo, who lavishes them with expensive gifts and last-minute trips to Amsterdam.  To Walter, who comes from a strict, poor family and has never been abroad, it’s almost too good to be true.  He soon discovers a sinister undercurrent to all the fun, however—Hugo expects sex as payment for his generosity, while friendship with Tim and Ali isn’t as simple as it seems.  Tim can be strangely remote; Ali’s need for attention borders on the pathological.  Even Walter hides a deadly secret.  Then, when the group visits Hugo’s family estate in Algiers, long-simmering tensions burst into violence.

 Walker has a flair for crafting witty dialogue and vivid characters while juggling complex themes of class struggle and imperialism.  There are some weak spots-- nymphomaniac Ali, for all her deliberate diva-tude, veers close to a stagey cliché—and the dialogue can be a bit self-conscious in its literary allusions--but there are some powerful moments.  The horrifying imagery of Walter’s final monologue, for example, echoes the brutal, florid eloquence of Catharine’s last speech in Suddenly Last Summer.

Randy Morrison ©2023  Amanda Jane Cooper & JD Taylor

 Director Adam Fitzgerald paces the action well, building suspense while developing nuanced, relationships between the characters.  The cast give sterling performances.  JD Taylor shows the self-doubt beneath Tim’s confident exterior, while Amanda Jane Cooper gives a fearlessly tackles Ali’s sensuous hauteur.  Patrick Murney brings a natural, heartrending vulnerability to Walter, and Rufus Collins is an effortlessly urbane and emotionally complex Hugo.   Travis McHale’s scenic and lighting design—which portrays a crowded, spartan dorm in Act 1 and an open, luxurious Algerian garden in Act 2—is breathtaking, a miracle of detail and ingenuity.  Amanda Jenks’ costumes subtly capture the characters’ emotional and financial status—from Walter’s worn jeans and baseball caps to Ali’s over-the-top Eurotrash-meets-Britney Spears wardrobe.

 In all, this is a finely polished production, an excellexnt showcase for such a promising playwright and company.





June Havoc Theatre : 312 West 36th Street, First Floor