“There are two sides to every story,” says Frederick Clegg in Nine Theatricals intense adaptation of The Collector now showing at the 59E59 Theaters. The Collector, adapted from the novel by John Fowles, is a major British work of the 20th Century, dealing largely with the theme of class that seems, in the thick of this election season, to have ominous parallels indeed. Clegg speaks of there being two sides to every story at the beginning and then, as if as bookend, at the conclusion of this unforgettable depiction of class, but also of obsession, adapted by Mark Healy.
Director Lisa Milinazzo who re-imagines the 59E59 Theater space and how the movements of the play’s two protagonists — one the hunter and the other the hunted — are expressed does so with a passionate genius. Further, one cannot fail to mention the masterly set design, by Jesse Bonaventure and his assistant, Meg McGuigan, transforming an intimate space (50-70 seats; Stage Area: 25' wide x 25' deep) into a near-claustrophobic atmosphere that serves the intent of the play with profoundly expert economy. Several floors are expressed on that twenty-five foot stage allowing action and reaction to action on different floors of the old cottage (”... far from the maddening crowd”) to be represented in full view of the audience. The set design as well as the direction provides the audience the unique and exquisite experience of sharing the space among the captor and she who was captured.
And so when Clegg, played with an uncanny precision and chilling audacity by Matt de Rogatis, tries to justify his actions to we assembled throughout the play, the audience cannot, despite our deepest wishes, escape the faintest hint of complicity (Stockholm Syndrome maybe?) within the shared confines of that intimate space. Also, added bonus: seating in the theater as well as the expert lighting design by Steve Wolf, provides viewers on either side of the stage to see the audience reaction — and this is a highly reactive experience — directly opposite.
All plays are about power relationships to a degree. A play containing only two characters done by such strong performers is even more so. The fight coordinator, Greg Pragel, deserves mention here as the highly physical interactions between captor and captive are conveyed very convincingly to the theatergoer. What makes this meditation on class even more fascinating than it already is is that it occurs within the dialectic of our present two-party election in the U.S. — between Clinton and alpha Trump. Only Trump and Clinton are both members of the overclass.
Matt de Rogatis plays Clegg, a bland but ultimately chilling sociopath, with shrewdness but also with an implied (and sometimes actual) physical menace. Ultimately Clegg’s single advantage over the delicate object of his fancy is brute physical force, which he is not unprepared to use. Rogatis, through Clegg, gives very little away of the gnomic interior of such a figure. There is an awkwardness, yes — the laughing at inappropriate moments; but there is also a determination — the willpower to carry out such a monstrous task of obsession and desire against beautiful Miranda Grey, played excellently by Jillian Geurts.
Guerts plays Miranda, a creative young woman of the British upper class, with an exquisite physicality, but also with a shrewdness that tries to oppose Clegg’s. We are introduced to her first in a series of leering photographs projected onto the walls for all to see, then — physically — when she is released into her “prison,” poured onto a bed in a cellar of a non-descript country house (”.. far from the maddening crowd”). Her first act onstage is to thoroughly evacuate her stomach in a negative reaction to Clegg’s chlorophorm. She is clearly an unwilling “guest.” In two hours and thirty minutes Guerts relentlessly puts Miranda through the paces — of sickness, of guile, subterfuge and seduction — towards the end of either freedom or death.