Preston is not happy with his snow globe. It’s cheap. It’s broken. It leaked all over his favorite jacket. And the New York skyline is out of proportion; the Statue of Liberty is the same height as the Empire State Building.
Preston wants a refund. Through a brusque letter to the New York store where he bought the snow globe during a trip, he demands a refund. Assistant manager Dahlia answers back with a curt reminder of her store’s “no refunds” policy.
When Preston writes a follow-up letter still demanding a refund, Dahlia accuses him of possessing a “classic Midwestern sense of entitlement, with obvious passive-aggressiveness and literal-mindedness.” Preston responds, calling her “an unfortunate, kitsch-peddling, pseudo-intellectual bohemian.” Thus starts a war of words and the beginning of a perverse relationship.
Hate Mail, B Street Theatre’s current two-person play, is a glib alternative to the theater classic Love Letters. The dramatic premise is the same—dialogue between two characters exchanged through letters. But this is a twisted version, with two rather unsympathetic characters battling it out through letters, notes and e-mails.
When you check out the background of the two Hate Mail playwrights, you realize where the dry, sardonic wit comes from. Bill Corbett was a writer for TV’s Mystery Science Theater 3000, and his writing partner, Kira Obolensky, wrote the quirky surreal play Lobster Alice, a previous B Street offering.
Hate Mail tracks the relationship between Preston Dennis Jr., a spoiled, uptight trust-funder from Minneapolis; and Dahlia Markle, an affected New York wannabe artist. When Preston succeeds in getting Dahlia fired from her daytime job, the business correspondence becomes a personal one, evolving from hate into friendship and love, and then back into hate.
Actors Kurt Johnson and Dana Brooke are great foils when bouncing dialogue off each other at a fast pace, keeping their sarcasm in check and heightening their neuroses when needed. This is harder than it looks, since they don’t interact with each other, merely through the written word.
Unfortunately, this lack of interrelating is one of the play’s weaknesses, making it superficial and awkward. The other weakness is the unlikable characters. They don’t warrant sympathy from the audience, either individually or as a couple. Nonetheless, the repartees are clever and wicked, and there is pleasure to be found in laughing at the inappropriate interchanges between these two disagreeable writers.