The Check is in the Mail
nytheatre.com review by Case Aiken
August 16, 2009
Theater is nothing if it not influenced by the environment that produces it. That isn't always a good thing. Case in point: The Check is in the Mail, the new submission to this year's FringeNYC Festival from the Genesis Repertory Ensemble, has me dreading a wave of lookalike "Recession Era" dramas all bemoaning the economy and how it drives people to actions that they would never have considered in the good times, particularly because I can imagine most being less skillfully handled.
Written by Robert Liebowitz, the piece follows the struggles of a printing company's top executives in poor economic times, which are compounded by advances in technology pushing the industry closer to obsolescence and by internal strife and cost-cutting ostracizing the few remaining competent employees. Leon Lipkin, played by Allen Lewis Rickman, symbolizes this as a former mover and shaker who is now doing more damage than anything else due to an inability to accept that his golden years, and those of the industry he once knew, are long since past. His double crossing of his employees leads to a competitor gaining the upper hand, but he fails to even realize the severity as he doesn't recognize the shrinking market for his wares. In short order, desperation sets in and we see the characters who we at first perceived to be moral beacons act in an utterly villainous manner, while the arrogant and dishonest Lipkin begins to show shades of compassion and morality.
It's an interesting story, but it at times leaps forward too quickly. Characters show dramatic growth just a hair too abruptly (even with the timeline spanning several months) and some plot twists, even if foreshadowed fairly obviously, still feel as if from out of left field. This may be because I was often distracted by the sheer volume of characters on stage, many of whom add little to the scenes. This feeling of clutter carries on throughout, making the play seem like a work in progress. There are strong scenes, such as the many conversations between Lipkin and his business partner (played by Jay Michaels), and many great ideas, like the chorus of dancers guiding the scene changes, but the overall pacing seems off and everything felt as though it could be tightened. I hope that this show gets that chance though, as I found myself truly enjoying Lipkin's transformation from an oaf into a Shakespearean tragic hero like Macbeth, to which I came to see many parallels throughout.
There is a strong foundation for a show here, with some very solid performances and good ideas in play. I just hope that future stagings trim some of the fat found in this production.