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Kathrine Kressmann Taylor's "Address Unknown" adapted for the stage and directed by Frank Dunlop

Promenade Theatre, 2162 Broadway at West 76th St.
Directed and adapted by Frank Dunlop
Previews May 28, Opened June 10. Open run, Tues.-Sat., 8:00 pm, Wed., Sat., Sun., 3:00 pm, $40-65.
(212) 239-6200 or online at www.TeleCharge.com
Reviewed by Robert Hicks on June 15, 2004

Literary adaptation is risky business. Consider the case of director Frank Dunlop's stage adaptation of Kathrine Kressmann Taylor's popular 1938 novella "Address Unknown" into an epistolary drama.

For starters, letters are a highly subjective, formalized mode of expression. The information presented via a letter depends solely on the unique perspective and knowledge of one person. As such, letters can be unreliable as narrative.

Due to this constraint, many epistolary novels, for example, offer letters from multiple characters. One character's perceptions and knowledge of an event may shed light on or give ironic commentary on that of another character. Letters from multiple characters can provide additional references to aid one's judgment of these very personal accounts of events and they can broaden the experiential boundaries of the narrative drama. The more letters and characters, the broader the scope and intelligence of the drama.

In Dunlop's epistolary play, "Address Unknown," two old friends, Jewish German-American art dealer Max Eisenstein (Jim Dale) and his Aryan German-American business partner Martin Schulse (William Atherton) correspond during the beginnings of Nazi Germany. Eisenstein writes from his San Francisco art gallery and Schulse replies from his castle and bank in Munich.

Part of Dunlop's failure here as a director lies in the way he allows the two actors to give voice to their letters. Eisenstein and Schulse both read from their own letters instead of reading from the letters sent to them. This method does not allow the actors to react to the other's letter, except via a reply letter. If Dale read from Schulse's letters and Atherton read from Eisenstein's, both actors should be able to penetrate more deeply into the events portrayed via their letters. As the play now exists, both actors are limited to embellishing the content of their own letters.

Eisenstein's wife and sister and Schulse's wife and children are not heard from via their own letters. Inclusion of their letters could expand our knowledge of what happens to them and to Eisenstein and Schulse.

As "Address Unknown" now stands in its limited epistolary form, it gives little insight into the horrors of Nazi Germany, the political transformation and personal betrayal of Schulse and the revenge and remorse of Eisenstein. Dale and Atherton do their best to pull some emotional intensity from Dunlop's adaptation of Taylor's text and to engage the audience in the lives of these two characters, their friends and relatives and the upheaval of the early 1930s, but there is little room in this literary conceit to succeed as compelling drama. [Hicks]

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