Jon Robin Baitz’s “The Paris Letter” receives a nice remounting at the Lonny Chapman Theatre. “The Paris Letter” revolves around Sandy Sonnenberg (winningly played by Dan Sykes), a young gay man in the 1960s who suppresses his sexuality to lead a “normal” life as a husband and father. Flashing forward to the 2000s, Sandy is now played with asthma attacks by Larry Eisenberg.
Sandy’s grown-up friend Anton (entertainingly essayed by Lloyd Pedersen) narrates Sonnenberg’s contentious history now complete with loving wife Katie, out gay son Sam and a young, charismatic, but shady business partner Burt.
Dual roles for the actors work seamlessly without any confusion. A stand-out in this able ensemble, Sykes, as the closeted Young Sandy, is innocence personified in his seduction scene with the Young Anton (played by Alex Parker) and vividly exhibits the angst of struggling with his sexual identity.
Julia Silverman nails many fine moments in the second act to shine as Katie, the angry, deceived wife of trickster Sandy. Supporting caricatures fared with mixed results. Eisenberg’s gay reparation therapist Dr. Schiffman hits the bull’s-eye with his know-it-all, self-righteous homophobia; while Silverman as Lillian, Sam’s mother, overplays the privileged diva mother role. Her Lilllian is so camp she wears huge “real” diamond earrings to a never-before-visited Bohemian restaurant. Her real diamond earrings would have put Liz Taylor to shame without so much as a bodyguard hovering over her.
Having seen the world premiere of “The Paris Letter” back in 2004, I found that director Jules Aaron’s interpretation of Anton and Young Anton with limp wrists greatly contrasts with the original interpretation. Are “limp wrists” necessary to depict gay people? Or are “limp wrists” just a characteristic the actor or director chooses, like having a regional accent or not?
The combination of Chris Winfield’s set design and J. Kent Inasy’s lighting design made for easy, distinct and smooth transitions of five separate settings revealed behind, or in front of, the sliding (but squeaking) panels.
A final note: The opening scene of the older Sandy sexually grappling with the young Bert might not be the most “welcoming” image for a predominantly straight theater audience, let alone a gay one.
—Gil Kaan, Culture Spot LA
Performances continue through Sept. 2, at the Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood 91601. Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. For tickets, visit www.grouprep.com or call (818) 763-5990.