“You’ve Got Hate Mail” is a comedy about infidelity in the computer age. Written by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore, the play is told entirely through emails, chat messages and texts between five characters who read aloud and react to the correspondence.
There’s the appropriately named Richard, a lawyer who can’t keep his little Richard in his pants; his mistress, Wanda; and his too-trusting wife, Stephanie. Richard and Stephanie’s friends George and Peg get involved after one of Richard’s sexy emails intended for Wanda gets sent to Stephanie instead.
Channeling his inner Dick, Mike Waugh bravely chooses not to pull any punches as Richard, even at the cost of audience sympathy, fully committing to bringing this reprehensible slimeball to life. Thankfully, Waugh maintains just enough of his own charisma to keep the laughs coming.
Linda McDonald delivers the play’s best performance as the wisecracking, loyal Peg. Admittedly, she’s given some of the best lines, but as the most likable character of Act 1, she takes righteous joy in tormenting Richard and Wanda, played with a kind of demented perfection by TooToo Cirlot. Unfortunately, Cirlot doesn’t find the same kind of balance as Waugh, ending up hard to like.
With the most well-defined character arc, Renee Preftakes does a good job tracking Stephanie’s development from sweet, clueless housewife to a self-assured woman no longer willing to accept her husband’s cheating ways. Nick Backes is likable, but a bit unfocused in the strange role of George, a kind of innocent manchild with epic sexual prowess. He also gets saddled with one of the play’s two ongoing series of groaner jokes, about fake nude photos of Hillary Clinton.
“Hate Mail” is a too cute at times and too crude at others. For anyone who’s spent any significant time online, it comes off like it’s trying really hard to be naughty, but in fact, doesn’t know the half of it.If you’re in the play’s target demographic of the adult professional, you’ll probably have a pretty good time. Mileage may vary for younger or older audience members.
Aside from issues of tone, “Hate Mail” just ends up feeling like overkill, expending energy on repeating and expanding upon the same jokes and concepts again and again, all while let ting the story get so needlessly overcomplicated that several plotlines have to be wrapped up in a vestigial epilogue.
Under the direction of Rhonda Clark, “Hate Mail” isn’t much to look at in terms of staging. The cast members are seated behind desks staring at laptop screens for the majority of the work, standing only occasionally to send a text. To the actors’ credit, most work hard to compensate with animated performances.
Despite being a last-minute replacement for another show, “Hate Mail” doesn’t feel underproduced. Most of its problems are with the script, not the execution.