Dead Letter Office
The mail carrier’s court of last resort has an estimable literary heritage; Melville pictured the recalcitrant Bartleby as a refugee from its futile precincts. For his part, playwright Dawkins (who stepped in for original writer Ben Viccellio) has constructed an over-the-top melodrama, à la John Waters, set in this postal end of the line. Featuring alcoholic boxer–turned–mail sorter Christian (Mays), a sleazy middle manager (Volkers) slobbering over new employee and former stripper Je T’aime (Magee), and the chirpily insane, indefatigably Midwestern route walker Agatha (Price), Dawkins’s scenario offers plenty of buried secrets and tacky goings-on, culminating in an Xmas party gone awry, complete with fake tree.
But the tone of Dog & Pony’s production seems fatally at odds with the spirit of the script. From the opening, presenting Christian’s monotonous routine as a piece of meticulous physical theater, to the second act’s tearful revelations, Gray and company play everything with a determined, earnest commitment. The result is something like an Annoyance show as staged by Steppenwolf. Never letting us know how seriously Dead Letter Office is meant, the production ends up feeling simply contrived, like an off-kilter sitcom. Dawkins’s skill is apparent in such striking throwaways as Je T’aime’s description of a dying python. And William Anderson’s scenic design, abetted by ominous sound by Stephen Ptacek, creates a compelling environment. But the play never quite gets delivered.