By Lucy Komisar
Ngozi Anyanwu’s play starts out appearing to be a feminist take about a relationship gone wrong. And the first person we see is curiously called “You 1” which means there will be a “You 2.” Perhaps that means the viewers can identify with either or each.
Directed by Patricia McGregor, the play excels in its acting, especially by the brilliant Daniel J. Watts, less in the text which is sometimes gripping, but then unsatisfying for the questions it leaves unanswered.
The first part features the woman, played by the author, in a rant about the guy she is splitting up with.
There’s a metal bedstead, loud music, disarray, a pair of red spike heels. She speaks in anger, outrage, fury, but sometimes acknowledges her own role in the dysfunctional relationship. She alternately presents her former lover as seductive and exploitive, with herself as an eager partner or near helpless foil.
“You wanted me, the one you created…Arguments ended when you made your point.” But, “When you cling to me, it made me feel powerful. It felt good to be picked, special.” But, “By making me everything, you made me nothing.” And “It was you or me, I chose me.”
You 1 and You 2. Does that mean everywoman and everyman? Too simple. The questions about their relationship are never answered.
After you meet the man, you almost forget about the woman, largely because of the stunning performance by Watts. And you realize she didn’t have a clue about him. But the script doesn’t answer all the questions even then.
He is in an institution, in a large space with the same metal bedstead, a sink, a urinal. It appears to be a prison. When a warder (Xavier Scott Evans) arrives down a long retractable metal staircase and gives him medication, we realize it could be a prison for the mentally ill. But why is he in there? No clue.
He is thinking about her, their courtship, he thinks of her every day. His physical presence, movement, desperation, energy, sensitivity are an acting tour de force. He doesn’t seem like the exploitative guy she described.
At one point he says, “You had to have known who I was.” That’s a hint, but we still don’t know. He declares, “I don’t need anyone, don’t need you.” Well, they both have come to that conclusion.
Watts’ is so compelling that you almost put aside the realization that these are two strong character sketches that a writer might have crafted for a workshop, but not quite a fully realized play.
“The Last of the Love Letters.” Written by Ngozi Anyanwu, directed by Patricia McGregor. Atlantic Theatre, 336 West 20th St., NYC. 866-811-4111. 70 minutes. Opened Sept 13, closes Sept 26, 2021. 9/20/21. On NY Theatre Wire.