After you’ve watched the subtle, nuanced performance of Dane Zinter as Fredrick, a pathetically lonely, obsessed madman in “The Collector,” you may be excused for concluding that the actor himself is more than a little deranged. His defensive smirk, his furrowed brow, his awkward gestures with his hands are so spot-on that you simply lose sight of the fact that he’s acting. And his accent — working-class Brit — is impeccable, and he doesn’t lose it for a single syllable.
If I seem to be raving here, please forgive me. I was simply bowled over by this young man. In my view, he could become this generation’s Meryl Streep.
The plot of “The Collector,” the 1963 novel by John Fowles, has been repeated by so many other authors that it has almost become a cliché. A mild-mannered butterfly collector, unable to approach the object of his desires, due to his social ineptitude and her higher class status, kidnaps her instead. Taking her to his secluded bungalow, he houses her in a basement bunker with the hope that as she gets to know him she will eventually come to love him. (A plot which has a grim parallel in the recent cases of “disappeared” women who were found to have been hidden away for years to bear the children of their captors.)
The young woman, Miranda, is played brilliantly by Jaimi Paige, who matches Zinter nuance for nuance, veering from hysterical intensity to mumbling and incoherent despair. Initially afraid of him, she panders to his need to be her friend. When she discovers that he doesn’t intend to assault her sexually — in fact, he can’t even bring himself to kiss her because he believes it would be dangerous and disrespectful — she begins to mock him. At one point she even chases him from her room by swearing at him so furiously that he retreats in utter shock.
Eventually, when he allows her to come upstairs to his part of the house, he proudly shows her his butterfly collection, which she disdains. She is contemptuous that he kills these beautiful creatures for his own amusement, perhaps recognizing that she herself is his latest “specimen.” When he shows her examples from his other hobby, photography, she disdains that as well. She is a gifted art student and she compares the value of her work with his. “When you draw something, it lives,” she says, “but when you photograph something, it dies.”
In 1965, “The Collector” was made into a film starring Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar. A few years later, Fowles adapted his story as a play, which wasn’t successful. It wasn’t until 1998 that Mark Healy came up with an adaptation that made the play memorable. It is that adaptation that is being produced by the Ruskin Group Theatre now, under the competent direction of Edward Edwards. Edwards also serves as set designer, with a set on two levels, representing the “comfortable” cellar bunker, as prepared by Fredrick, and the upstairs dining room. Since no one is credited with costume design, we must assume that it was a collaborative effort between the director and the actors, but it must be noted that Miranda’s clothing (procured for her by Fredrick) is both appropriate and effective. Fredrick, on the other hand, wears the same outfit for the entire play, which covers a month’s time, but that also seems appropriate for his very rigid and restricted character.
How this story ends is a titillating shocker. Does Miranda escape? Does she come to love her captor? Do they live happily ever after? You’ve got to see it for yourself. And believe me, it’s well worth your time and attention!
“The Collector” will continue at Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through March 6. Call (310) 397-3244 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.