Theatre: Don’t miss the Actors Rep production of A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters” at the Art Café.
The plush velvet surroundings of the Art Café make for a comfortable and intimate setting in which to relish the lost art of letter writing. A.R. Gurney’s genteel two-hander may seem old-fashioned and quaint in the digital age, but the emotions the author wrings from his text are very real.
In this Actors Rep production directed by Erik Abbott, Louisa Graf and Timothy Lone play Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, who read through letters that form a correspondence detailing some 50 years of their friendship, triumphs, disappointments and, above all, the oft fraught story of their love. Their first correspondence takes the audience back to 1937, when Melissa is celebrating her seventh birthday party, to which Andy is cordially invited by letter.
We witness the friends innocently flirt in childhood--the letters at this stage being surreptitious notes passed to each other in class--then correspond with growing maturity as they are sent away to their respective boarding schools. Both come from WASP families--Melissa’s rich and dysfunctional, Andy’s conservative and wary of its reputation--from which background, at some stage, they both try to escape with varying degrees of success.
The language is at times poetic, brusque, witty, romantic, despairing, joyous. In the hands of Graf and Lone, the correspondence between Melissa and Andy becomes thoroughly engaging and, thanks to a number of quick-fire montage sequences, the years fly by and the pace of the piece is allowed to vary.
There is plenty of humour in the letters, especially Melissa’s biting comments on Andy’s drier epistles. But it is in the deeply personal letters, when trying to fathom and then express their feelings for each other, that this production shines. Graf is particularly good, as she was when the pair last appeared together in Actors’ Rep production of Edward Albee’s The Goatat TNL last summer.
She manages to convey emotion superbly with the smallest of gestures or the tiniest shift in timbre of her voice. Her silences, too, are perftectly timed. Lone, full of confidence, has a more solid and upstanding character to deal with, and his delivery has to remain true to Andy being in control of his feelings (much to Melissa’s chagrin).
Some audiences may find it tricky to empathise with the ordeals of the privileged middle-classes--and occasionally that old adage from Casablanca about the problems of three little people (in this case two) not amounting to a hill of beans in this crazy world springs to mind. But Gurney has written a piece that zeroes in on plenty of universal feelings and the relationship between Melissa and Andy, and the dilemmas they face, will resonate with everyone. Love Letters will also send many in the audience scurrying, if not to their writing desk, then at least to their keyboards to fire off lengthy emails to loved ones or family. It is a splendid evening’s entertainment.
Love Letters is on at the Art Café 1a rue Beaumont (entrance Capucins courtyard), Luxembourg-Centre at 8 p.m. on Monday February 3, Tuesday February 4 and from Monday February 10 through Thursday February 13. Viist the Actors Rep websitefor ticket details.