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A CurtainUp Review
The Collector

Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.

poem by William Blake
Matt de Rogatis and Jillian Geurts (Photo by Michael Greenstein)
Based on John Fowles' 1963 debut novel, The Collector's Frederick Clegg is the sort of man neighbors would describe as quiet and unassuming. In Mark Healy's stage adaptation at 59E59 Theaters, they learn that Frederick is the sort to make tabloid headlines and inspire copycat psychopaths like Phillip Garrido, Ariel Castro, Robert Berdella and TV series like Criminal Minds.

Yet, as Frederick (Matt De Rogatis who recently played Hamlet at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre) says in his lengthy opening monologue, "There are two sides to every story...The truth is a lot more complicated. So, that's what this is all about. As recorded in the diaries she secretly kept under her mattress, Miranda (Jillian Geurts), the victim, gets her chance to tell her story in the second half of the play.

Uneducated and socially isolated, Frederick spends his time alone collecting butterflies and fantasizing about Miranda, a beautiful local 19-year-old girl from a wealthy family, studying art and living the good life. He stalks her and takes photos but never speaks to her. Miranda represents a higher status of education and wealth. When Frederick wins the football lottery, however, all that changes. Sudden wealth offers him assurance and a belief that money will enable him to change his life and his destiny.

Frederick insists it was just a "series of coincidences" that led him to his next ominous steps: buying a secluded cottage in the country, kidnapping Miranda and imprisoning her in the cottage basement. He had readied it with a bed, art books and a wardrobe of new clothes, hoping to earn her friendship and eventually love. He offers her flowers, food and anything she needs. Everything except freedom.

While there are basic necessities in the curtained corner that serves as a lavatory, she can only go upstairs once a week to take a bath. Frederick insists she never go outside the locked basement door. This macabre situation takes place in the theater's black box space, lending a chilling atmosphere of obsession.

Miranda is frantic, bewildered, angry and desperate and plans ways to escape. An articulate and manipulative girl, she approaches Frederick as a friend, then cajoles, fights and finally girds herself to seduce him, which infuriates him. Yet, even as she becomes more demanding, Frederick agrees to her appeals but not her request to leave the basement.

Unfortunately, Healy's script never reveals what lies at the bottom of Frederick's monotonous obsession. As the two hours-plus play unfolds under Lisa Milinazzo's careful but plodding direction, the pressure of the situation begins to taper off and the drama's pace slackens (losing many audience members after Act One at the performance I attended).

De Rogatis keeps his focus intense, zooming in on the audience in an effort to convince them of "the series of coincidences" that led him to this situation. Frederick's personality is unpredictable. He is frustrated about his inability to express himself well but reminds her that he holds the power. As his character darkens in tone and grows increasingly suspicious of Miranda's fierce drive to escape, De Rogatis reveals a lonely man holding an objectified human butterfly. But the menacing danger he poses does not fully materialize until his final harrowing monologue.

Jillian Geurts (of TV's upcoming The Mind of a Murderer) persuasively expresses Miranda's determination to do whatever she must to free herself. She draws on charm and passion as she keeps changing tactics, her garrulous energy never faltering until her plan ultimate plan for Frederick fails and she succumbs to humiliation, depression and a deep hatred against not only Frederick but God and life.

Both actors are as adept as the surprisingly lethargic script lets them be. The small small black box space has two rows of seats on each side. Jesse Bonaventure has designed the basement's bleak claustrophobic atmosphere with outlines of butterflies covering the dark walls. Steve Wolf's lighting does not delineate time but enhances the threatening moods. Costume designer, Blair Wear, gives Miranda bulky sweaters to huddles in throughout the play except when Miranda convinces Frederick to share an ill-fated romantic dinner/seduction and wears the scanty purple gown that Frederick bought her. Frederick never dresses any less mundanely than he did before he won the lottery.

No time frame is given for The Collector but the issue of class divisiveness is relevant today just as it was when Fowles wrote his novel in the 1960's and when the film was released in 1963. In the stage version, however, what should be a tense psychological thriller unfortunately sags into an extended Halloween screech.

With two class-conscious characters and their battle for power, this dragged out stage version of The Collector should be more terrifying than melodramatically creepy.

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The Collector Play by Mark Healy, adapted from John Fowles' novel
Director: Lisa Milinazzo
Cast: Jillian Geurts and Matt De Rogatis 
Set Design: Jessie Bonaventure
Costume Design: Blair Wear
Lighting Design: Steve Wolf
Original Music and Sound Design: Sean Hagerty
Production Stage Manager: Gabriela Gowdie
Fight Coordinator: Greg Pragel
Projection Design: Walter McGrady
Running Time: 2 hours. 30 minutes. One intermission
59E59 Theaters 59 East 59th Street
Thurs. and Sun. 7:30pm. Fri., Sat. at 8:30pm. Sat., Sun. matinees at 3:30pm.
From 10/26/16; opening 11/01/16; closing 11/13/16. Tuesday to Thursday at 7:30 PM, Friday at 8:30 PM, Saturday at 2.30 PM and 8.30 PM, Sunday at 3:30 PM. There is an added performance on Sunday, October 30 at 7:30 PM. Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors based on performance 10/30/16

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