Wednesday, November 2, 2016

93. Review: THE COLLECTOR (seen November 1, 2016)

“The Thrill Is Gone”

The Collector, Mark Healy’s adaptation of British writer John Fowles’s 1963 novel of that name, is about an obsessive butterfly collector (lepidopterist, to the cognoscenti), a mild-mannered clerk named Frederick Clegg (Matt de Rogatis). Having won a fortune in a football lottery, and now being free to act on his long-suppressed desires, he abducts Miranda Grey (Jillian Geurts), a pretty art student with whom he’s equally obsessed, and locks her up in the basement of a secluded cottage he’s purchased two hours from London.

Matt de Rogatis, Jillian Geurts. Photo: Michael Greenstein.
He doesn’t want to hurt or rape her, just to get her to love him, while he loves her back, as he does his many rare specimens. Feistier and more resistant than Frederick expected, Miranda even gets him to agree on how long she’ll remain his captive. Naturally, she tries various ploys to escape, seduce, or otherwise get the better of him until the situation, as it must, takes an unfortunate turn of events.

Both Frederick and Miranda explain themselves to the audience in monologs and soliloquies. He speaks directly to us, filling in his motives as if seeking expiation (“There are two sides to every story,” he explains), while she talks indirectly, sometimes via the diary she keeps in which she reveals her feelings, especially those for George, the older man, her art mentor and lover, who dumped her. A persistent theme is Frederick’s feelings of inferiority based on class and education; his actions are obviously related to issues of class hatred, which also affect his inability to have sex with Miranda or even to accept her use of profanity.
Matt de Rogatis, Jillian Geurts. Photo: Michael Greenstein.
The play updates the story in various ways, including its language and introduction of digital and video cameras, although no one uses a cell phone. Moreover, for all Frederick’s attempts to make life comfortable for Miranda (clothing, books, CDs, drawing materials, even Tampons), there’s nary a mention of a TV or radio.
Matt de Rogatis, Jillian Geurts. Photo: Michael Greenstein.
The tiny black box Theater C at 59E59 Theaters is the venue for this would-be claustrophobic melodrama. However, apart from indicating Frederick’s butterfly collection by having them pinned to the walls behind the audience instead of displayed on trays (as in the script), Jessie Bonaventure’s set is unexceptional, being little more than a bed, a table and chairs, a door, and a small curtained area for Miranda’s privacy. Steve Wolf's lighting helps a bit with the atmospherics, though, as do Blair Wear's costumes.

The premise of a villainous abductor holding an innocent person victim is quite familiar, of course. While it’s usually a man holding a woman (as in the movies Room and Don't Breath), we also have male victims held by a woman (viz. Stephen King’s Misery). Fowles’s book, which may have started the trend, was turned into a fine 1965 film directed by William Wyler, with exceptional performances from Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar (who was nominated for an Academy Award). Both were then at the height of their beauty, which complicated Miranda’s disgust at being his captive, although also giving Stamp something to play against. In Lisa Milinazzo’s tediously paced, surprisingly unengaging staging of Healy’s play, however, Frederick is made as plain as possible, with de Rogatis wearing grungy clothing, wire-rimmed glasses, and a scruffy beard.

The actor, in fact, has gone a step further by shaving his pate to create a male-pattern baldness effect. Seen from only a few feet away, its bluish sheen (like that on a stage or screen samurai) only emphasizes the phoniness of his performance, which also suffers from a mushy-mouthed, soft-voiced Cockney accent. Geurts is stronger but, except for a moment or two in the more physically demanding second act, she’s unable to overcome the general torpor of this thrill-less thriller.

When the first act ended, my companion asked if it was okay to leave. (I noticed something similar happening across the room with another reviewer and his plus-one.) He had my approval, of course, while I, like Miranda, was doomed to remain, pinned to my seat like those butterflies on the walls, loved but unloving in return.


59E59 Theaters
59 E. 59th St., NYC
Through November 13