The script is witty and urbane, the subject matter thought-provoking. The ensemble acting ranks it with the best dramas of the season.
"The Paris Letter," by Jon Robin Baitz, which SNAP opened last weekend, considers the cost of repressed sexuality, tracing the 40-year arc of Sandy Sonnenberg's life.
A series of flashbacks spells out the horrific price for Sandy — personally, professionally and financially.
As a young man, Sandy falls hard for Anton, a restaurateur, but can't see a way to make the relationship fit into a life he wants to live. Not even with a very supportive and savvy mother.
And certainly not with his cold, authoritative father, who insists Sandy take over his financial-investment business.
A psychiatrist, Dr. Schiffman, says he can help Sandy learn to repress that sexual side of himself — to "cauterize" it, and to take the inevitable occasional lapse in stride.
But Sandy's choice of denial has unforeseen consequences, which Anton patiently tries to help him see early on. And in midlife. And late in life.
Beyond its subject matter, "The Paris Letter" poses a second challenge for audiences: its structure.
The story opens in 2001, when Sandy's business is in crisis because his trust in young investment whiz Burt has been clouded by their affair.
Then scenes jump from the early 1970s to 1998 to November 1962 and so on. It's tricky keeping the story clear until you realize the same character is portrayed by more than one actor, and they're not so similar in appearance.
Michal Simpson is the older version of Sandy. Young Sandy is played by Eric Grant-Leanna, who talks to a psychiatrist played by Simpson.
Randy Vest is the older version of Anton. But the younger version is played by Noah Diaz, who already appeared as Burt in the opening.
There simply isn't time between scenes to visually separate these characters with age makeup or hair coloring. Lora Kaup's costumes help, but you have to just go with it.
That said, the acting in this series of intimate conversations is often sublime, as are plot twists you won't see coming.
Grant-Leanna plays the agony of young Sandy convincingly, while Diaz is truly impressive (at age 18) as both Burt and a whip-smart, perceptive young Anton.
I think I liked Simpson better as the psychiatrist, though he was excellent as rationalizing Sandy, varying subtly the degree to which he's a tortured soul moment to moment.
Connie Lee is particularly memorable in a nuanced restaurant scene as Sandy's mother, quietly handing over diamond earrings to pay for his shrink. More devastating: the arc of her scenes as Sandy's wife, crazy in love.
Perhaps best of all: Vest as older Anton, who serves as the show's narrator. He stitches the time gaps together with a flawlessly delivered assessment of the shifting emotional terrain, then fully invests himself in push-pull scenes with Sandy. It's stellar work.
Director M. Michele Phillips deftly handles staging and the emotional turns within scenes. Carefully paced transitions hold the show to 2½ hours, including intermission.
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