“Because paper has more patience than people.”
So wrote Anne Frank, and so declares Love Letters, the half-a-century-spanning story of two people falling in and out of love though paper, pen, and the twists and turns that make our lives worth writing down.
Written in 1988 by A.R. Gurney, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Love Letters chronicles the lives of Andrew Makepeace Lad III (Nigel Reed) and Melissa Gardner (Valerie Leonard), two well-to-do friends raised in the same circle but catapulted into different stratospheres. As their lives bring them through puberty, boarding school, adventures abroad and tumultuous careers, Andrew and Mellissa remain connected (if not grounded) through their steady habit of letter writing.
In fact, the play is told solely through the recitation of these letters, the two characters sitting side by side, reading from their pasts. Ken Sheat’s set is elegant and timeless, managing to suit tales of a troubled 1950’s home life and the spoils of a politician from the 1980’s. Andrew F. Griffin’s inviting light design and Christina McAlpine’s costumes bring the audience into the hearts and minds of the characters with ease.
The Bay Theatre Company’s production breathes genuine life into the pages of the heartfelt text. As the piece tumbles forward, the beautiful black box theatre grows smaller, the way the world does when a good book is in hand, when an honest conversation is taking place, when you find a childhood picture of yourself amongst tax returns and bank statements.
Reed and Leonard are the perfect foils, and superb artists at the heights of their craft. Reed’s shy and principled young Andrew transitions seamlessly into a civil minded and deeply committed man, while Leonard’s wild adolescent Melissa spins out of control in a spiral that is, while predictable, heart-breaking just the same. The two each play characters over a 50 year age span, yet we know exactly who these characters are as their spirits shine through their sometimes mismatched exteriors. This sight is nothing short of artistry, and a testament to director Alan Wade who has navigated the show with equal parts grace and color.
The words themselves are the final star of the production. In youth, words are Andrew and Melissa’s culprit of miscommunication, responsible for high hopes and disappointment. They’re directed to bridge gaps, illuminate, lie, beg, grin, hold, and most of all, love. When Melissa nudges Andrew away from the antiquity of the letter, Andrew gasps, “A letter is a way of presenting yourself in the best possible light to another person.” Why should anyone give that up? Isn’t that what Facebook and Twitter are used for? Carefully written text messages and much-edited E-mails? Words offer Andrew and Melissa protection, even as the rest of the world grows dangerous.
The pace of Love Letters is sure and solid – from the heartfelt and hilarious follies of youth to the panicked and desperate crossroads of maturity – bringing the audience along on its dizzy timeline every step of the way.
The play is about more than communication, though; it’s about dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s as life’s trumpets sound in the background. Can the written word and best intentions mute the trumpets and stop the parade? Probably not. But they can make the parade bearable, and remind us what it is to be human.
Love Letters does this all and then some in a memorable production sure to send patrons to their tissues, their loved ones, and hopefully their desks. Letter writing (and great theatre) is anything but dead. Just ask the Bay Theatre Company.
Love Letters runs thru March 4, 2012 at Bay Theatre, 275 West Street, Annapolis, MD.
Written by A.R. Gurney
Directed by Alan Wade
Produced by Bay Theatre Company Inc.
Reviewed by Sarah Ameigh
Run Time: Two Hours and Fifteen Minutes with a Fifteen Minute Intermission