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The Collector

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - November 1, 2016

Matt de Rogatis and Jillian Geurts
Photo by Michael Greenstein

Once the deed is done, once the line is crossed, how can there be any turning back? That's the question being raised and also the underlying problem with the unrelentingly creepy production of Mark Healy's adaptation of John Fowles' 1963 novel, The Collector, now at 59E59 Theaters.

The play, like the book, puts us in close proximity to the inner workings of the damaged mind of a tightly wound but seemingly mild-mannered milquetoast of a man, a collector of butterflies who finds himself in the position of being free to act on a long-held fantasy. Frederick Clegg (Matt de Rogatis), has won a fortune in the lottery, enabling him to quit his job, live in seclusion, and expand his collection to include the attractive young woman he has been stalking.

Over the course of two-and-a-half hours, The Collector details the kidnapping and the disturbing interactions between Frederick and his "guest," Miranda Grey (Jillian Geurts), a terrified but feisty and determined prisoner who seeks at every turn to gain control of her situation.

"There are two sides to every story," Frederick tells us at the start of the play, expecting his logical recounting of events to convince us of his lack of culpability. "People are always jumping to the wrong conclusions, judging situations they don't really know anything about."

Well, he's got that right. There is no question but that we will judge Frederick within the first few minutes of the play, and we are unlikely to change our minds. We are there, it seems, to bear witness to the self-justifying confession of someone who equates obsession with love, and whose ability to control a dangerously abusive streak is iffy at best.

As the play unfolds, we watch the endless tango that defines the interchanges between Frederick and Miranda. Within the confines of the dank, windowless, and securely locked basement that is now her home, he is willing to do almost anything to make her comfortable. He buys her clothes, music, art supplies, and books, and he expects that all of this, along with the more-or-less respectful way he treats her, will warm her heart towards him. For her part, Miranda is focused always on how she will manipulate him into letting her go free, using argument, guile, and even a show of affection to convince him that what he has done can be undone without consequence.

But this is no gothic romance like Phantom of the Opera, and it contains almost none of the dark humor of Stephen King's Misery. Instead, it is an unwavering and consistently bleak danse macabre these two are engaged in, one that cannot possibly end on a happy note.

Thanks to the richly realized performances, director Lisa Milizanno's attention to details, Jessie Bonaventure's set design that winds through the audience, and the enforced intimacy of the production, The Collector succeeds all too well at making us feel we are being held hostage along with Miranda. The sense of menace is ubiquitous, and we cannot avoid feeling like the butterflies pinned to the walls, unable to escape.

The Collector
Through November 13
59E59 Theater C, 59 East 59th Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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