Review: In ‘The Last of the Love Letters,’ Passion Is Inescapable

Review: In ‘The Last of the Love Letters,’ Passion Is Inescapable

What exactly those ambitions are was not always clear to me. Playing a woman called only “Her” in the script, Anyanwu delivers a furious comic diatribe to an absent lover she’s apparently ambivalent about leaving. There’s no question she’s angry about how he has bent her into the image he wanted: “I put on the perfect lip color / I wore the clothes you liked,” she intones in the quasi-poetic cadences of the script. But she just as often flips into admitting, with a sly grin, her own accountability:

“Okay if I’m being honest, I liked being the thing you needed,” she grants, later adding: “I would be lying if I said it didn’t feel good / To withhold sometimes / A lot of times / Most of the time.”

The alternation between these two modes, though amusingly rendered by Anyanwu, is somewhat schematic, and might be even more so were it not for bold staging choices by the director, Patricia McGregor. Bringing physical life to the oscillations of the bare text, she at one point has Anyanwu pour what looks like a fifth of Patrón into the sound hole of the ex’s guitar and threaten to light it. At another point, indulging happier thoughts, the character is directed to make pleasurable use of that bed.

But the is-she-really-leaving love story, it turns out, is only the bait for what follows. After 20 minutes of Her, when a jarring reconfiguration of Yu-Hsuan Chen’s set brings us to another world entirely, we get Him. The next 50 minutes take place in a high-security cell, the kind you might imagine housing the most dangerous, psychotic inmates.

The man inside it, played by Daniel J. Watts, is clearly mad, in both senses. But he does not seem dangerous, even when fed medications by an orderly (Xavier Scott Evans). Rather, he seems emotionally bereft, desperate to reconnect with a woman who has unilaterally ended things with him. As we begin to wonder whether the woman in question is the same one we got to know earlier — or, for that matter, an actual woman at all, or many — his confinement, no less than his longing, begins to seem more allegorical than real.

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