Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Two Ones: 'The Collection' and 'A Kind of Alaska'

Matt McGrath, Darren Pettie, and Larry Bryggman, above, in “The Collection.” Photos by Ari Mintz.


one-act play is a wonder. It has to wrap in a tight little circle of time. It has to begin, build, and come to a resounding conclusion before the intermission. Harold Pinter, a playwright of superb understatement, should certainly be able to pull this off.

Curatorially, it has to be paired with another satisfying little wonder. One half of the program has to inform the other. Sometimes, one-acts are paired by the writer, saving the director the dramaturgical task of picking the perfect partnership.

“The Collection” and “A Kind of Alaska” are not a double bill mandated by the author. In fact, “The Collection” from 1961 with “A Kind of Alaska,” a shorter piece from 1982, based on Dr. Oliver Sacks’ “Awakenings,” seem like an odd pairing. Nonetheless, under the guidance of director Karen Kohlhaas they play together nicely. This double bill is produced by the Atlantic Theater Company at Classic Stages until Sunday, 19 Dec.

Cruelty, lies and a fog of innuendo and distrust are at the heart of the former, while miracle or medicine and a fog of isolation inform the latter.

In “The Collection,” a phone call in the middle of the night, brings out Harry’s (Larry Bryggman) curiosity and civilized nastiness. Darren Pettie’s James, feeling wronged, pulsates with a coiled aggression. Matt McGrath is Bill, a small boyish man who is both bully and bullier. Bill is also Harry’s protégé and housemate. Setting all of these resentments and fury in motion is Stella (Rebecca Henderson), James’ wife.

Rebecca Henderson and Darren Pettie in “The Collection”

James has made the late-night call because Stella told him that she had a fling with Bill while on a business trip. It is a seemingly plausible story since she and James sell clothes in a high-end shop and Bill is a designer. Meanwhile, Bill is quite at ease with Harry in their chic home. The balance of power in both relationships shifts under the weight of the accusation and Stella’s confessions to the jealous James.

All four actors are superb, filling their silences with menace; James, Harry and Bill all know that Stella has lied, and seemingly enjoy the opportunity to exercise their ferocity and brutality anyway.

The stylish split set courtesy of Walt Spangler is a brilliant and lively fifth character in this production. There are two distinct living rooms, islands side by side, with the phone booth teetering threateningly between them. James and Stella’s home is ‘60s modern and sleek; the house Harry shares with Bill is stuffy with knick-knacks and furniture.

The set contrasts with the simple clinical setting that WS has designed for “A Kind of Alaska.”

Larry Bryggman, Lisa Emery and Rebecca Henderson in “A Kind of Alaska.”

The writing in “A Kind of Alaska” is florid in comparison with that of “The Collection.” Lisa Emery as Deborah is at once a knowing, coquettish child and a victim of stolen time. She has awakened from a coma induced by sleeping sickness, thanks to Dr. Hornsby (Larry Bryggman) who has found an antidote to the illness. LB shows a sure hand, proudly repeating that he brought her out of her sleep as he explains that she has been asleep a very long time.

Deborah is a sociable person who has been deprived of “the chance for a chat” in her coma. She is aware of her surroundings and has experienced much over the years she has been asleep. It is hard for her to understand, though, how many moments she has actually lost. Her astonishment at her sister Pauline’s (Rebecca Henderson) gray hairs is touching and amusing. Despite the humor in the script, “A Kind of Alaska” is painful to watch and seems much longer than its 30-35 minutes.

Visit to learn more about “The Collection” and “A Kind of Alaska.”

Tamara Beck is President, Clean Lists Associates, Inc, an association management firm. And an avid theater-goer.

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