For the macabre, Spotlight Theatre in Swarthmore currently is presenting Mark Healy’s adaptation of John Fowles’ dark novel, THE COLLECTOR. The novel also was adapted into a 1960s movie. In Spotlight’s production, director Jim Carroll has changed the setting from England to Philadelphia.
Frederick Clegg (Thomas Robert-Irvin) is a collector of butterflies with a twisted mind rumbling beneath the observable. After a rocky childhood, he has settled into the role of a passive outcast, living a lonely life, working menial jobs and studying untangible things of great beauty. One of the latter is Miranda Grey (Jessica Jacob), who (before the start of the play) is a wise but somewhat self-indulgent college student majoring in art. Clegg, who deems himself unworthy of her, watches her from afar. When he suddenly wins the lottery, all of this changes. Clegg uses his winnings to purchase a house in the rural suburbs, complete with a large cellar…
As the play begins, Clegg has kidnapped Miranda and brought her to his cellar, which he has made up into a very dreary studio apartment of sorts, but without any windows or other means of access. He dons the role of the polite kidnapper, which does not sway Miranda from defiantly acting out or adopting any role that she needs to in order to escape. She probes Clegg for the reason he is holding her. After all, her family has no money. Yet Clegg is evasive. He buys her music, clothing, and art and tries to “accommodate” some of her wishes. After a time, there is an agreement that he will release her to her family after four weeks. But will the kidnapper honor his word?
The talent in Spotlight’s two-person cast is stellar. Irvin embodies eerie and disturbing, with a Norman Bates’ type affiant exterior and severely twisted interior. He is simultaneously polite and menacing and even manages to find a few moments of humor. Jacob plays a dynamic foil for him, lashing out and taking every intricate action she can think of in order to escape. Often the audience initially is unsure of her motivation, which is exactly how the character should be played.
Most impressive is the chemistry between Irvin and Jacob. There are moments of physical violence, sexual violence, and just genuine creepiness to which both actors fully commit. Much of the staging occurs on the floor, only a few feet from the audience. The seating is on three sides of the set, adding to the claustrophobia of the piece. At times, Clegg narrates via a large video projection at the back of the set.
Some moments in this play, particularly in Act 2, are extremely disturbing and will not bear well with and will be too much for some audience members. This is more praise for the acting talent than anything, but it’s important to mention. The adaptation itself plods on too much in Act 2 to what is an inevitable outcome and would be more potent with a shorter runtime. Carroll, though, does his best to keep the pacing sharp and the play moving.
THE COLLECTOR is not for everyone, but fans of the novel or film, or those with a taste for the sinister, will find a lot to like in this production.
by Mark Healy
Based on the novel by John Fowles
Directed by Jim Carroll
Swarthmore United Methodist Church
129 Park Avenue
Swarthmore, PA 19081