Shannon Burkett, Francesca Choy-Kee, Tyrone Mitchell Henderson, Peter OConnor, Chalres Socarides
Letters To The End Of The World is a wonderfully satisfying piece of theatre. The creation of writer-director Anton Dudley, a simple plot summary doesnt take into account much of the plays emotions. Letters concerns the journey of a delicate young man named Todd, the privileged (but not spoiled) son of New Yorkers.
Todd is still young enough to yearn to do global good” and frustrated that he doesnt know how to proceed. Todd finds articles by a teacher in Africa, a woman named Agnatha, with whom he starts a correspondence. Ultimately, their letters multiply an ache he already feels to do more, and so it is no surprise that in the second act he travels to Africa to help at the school.
What is a surprise is the daily events that occur there, not full of overwrought dramatic shenanigans but populated by the day-to-day lives that Todd encounters. It is a simple premise, executed plainly and acted with touching gentleness.
Charles Socarides illuminates Todd as an idealistic young who thinks of himself as an old soul and desperately wants to be useful. Todd epitomizes the story of youthful frustration full of hope and idealism but without the experience to turn desire into deeds. Mr. Socarides actions, reactions, fears, and wonderment anchor a wild mix of characters into a believable whole. Shannon Burkett plays the American teacher in Africa and her sister, Tess, in New York. As Agnatha she is convincing and realistic, but Dudley’s writing lets her down in her dual role as Tess. It would have been simpler to use a different actress altogether.
Tyrone Mitchell Henderson and Francesca Choy-Kee play the teachers in the African school. They bring both warmth and restraint to well-written roles, and they provide a glimpse into a life that is foreign to both Todd and the audience. Finally Peter OConner plays Bryan, Todds quasi-boyfriend. Bryan has to understand his own journey with regards to Todd. The script and Mr. OConner give just enough hints to allow the audience to devise their own insights into this relationship without cheating the story.
Credit has to go to Anton Dudley, who both wrote a beautiful story and manages to elicit delicacate performances from these great actors. The story juggles at least three stories excellently while never losing focus on the human relationships that lie at the heart of drama.
At Hand Theatre Company, which produced Letters, has a mission to produce original work using sustainable means, and so there is very little in the way of sets. The sense of place is never lost, and credit there goes to the actors, director and beautiful lighting design by Ryan Bauer. With a bench and a painted wall, the audience is transported between New York and Zambia effortlessly.
Letters To The End Of The World explores stories that are familiar. The joy in this show is the unique manner that the audience is presented these stories through the eyes of people with foibles, hope, and love.