“Letters of Suresh,” getting its regional premiere now at Denver’s Curious Theater, unfolds the stories of four people almost entirely through their letters, which the audience gets to hear as monologues from different times and places.
“Letter writing is this sort of archaic art form that is largely forgotten these days,” said playwright Rajiv Joseph. “And I find writing letters and receiving letters a very moving experience, and I wanted to kind of examine that through the structure of the play.”
The action starts with Melody, a writing teacher, composing a letter to a man — Suresh —whose correspondence she found among her late great uncle’s worldly effects. She writes to him without expecting a reply, and that act sets in motion a tale of connection and disconnection across years and oceans.
“All four of these characters have this need to connect and to share something, and whether or not anybody receives it is almost less important as just being able to express ourselves and just going through that practice,” said Desirée Mee Jung, who plays Melody. “There's always the hope that someone will receive it, but if not, that's okay. And not knowing is okay.”
Audiences familiar with Joseph’s work will immediately recognize the character of Suresh, who first appeared in his play “Animals Out of Paper.” In it, Suresh, a teenage origami prodigy, travels to Nagasaki, Japan, with his mentor, a professional paper artist, for an origami convention.
Joseph wrote “Animals Out of Paper” earlier in his career. But when he revisited the script, he found he wasn’t done with its main character.
“I just started wondering what happened with Suresh. He was a troubled kid. He was brilliant. He was haunted by some tragedies in his past, and I was just wondering what happened to him and what path he took in life,” said Joseph. “And this play is somewhat an attempt to uncover that.”
However, Joseph describes “Letters from Suresh” as less of a sequel to his earlier work and more like a companion piece. He also found inspiration for it in a solo visit he made to Japan.
“I visited Nagasaki because part of this play takes place in Nagasaki, which is a beautiful city and not a city that is a large tourist destination, which is something that I kind of like to do,” said Joseph. “It was a very solitary experience in a good way. And just the experience of being there, lost in my thoughts in this beautiful city, in this beautiful country, and thinking about my play helped the sort of construction of it.”
While the play was shaped in part by travel, it is also a product of enforced stasis; Joseph did much of the rewriting and reshaping during the pandemic, at a time when theaters were closed and it wasn’t clear what the future might hold for live theater.
“To write a play during that time was filled with some sort of prevailing anxiety,” he said. “I look back on that year or so of our lives — our collective lives — as this sort of strange pause button that we all had. And it almost seems like a distant memory now, but in the moment, it was affecting everything I did. And I think that the colors of the pandemic are somehow infused in the writing of this play.”
When she came to the script, director Julie Rada said she was struck by the interconnectedness of its characters, which became her key to keeping the story, which contains little direct interaction, moving.
“This play is not static. It actually has a lot of forward momentum in it. To use an origami metaphor, it folds in and on itself multiple times in the timeline,” said Rada.
“We span ten years in the scope of the play, and the timeline is a bit out of order, but throughout it, these characters are having these essentially near misses, but sort of slow-motion near misses because they're through the US Postal Service.”
The regional premiere of “Letters of Suresh” plays at Curious Theatre through Dec. 9, 2023.
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