The Pulitzer Prize-nominated Love Letters by A. R. Gurney is a charming play detailing a 50-year relationship between two individuals. First produced at Connecticut’s own Long Wharf Theatre in 1988, it has over the years starred such luminaries as John Rubenstein, Stockard Channing, Kathleen Turner, Christopher Walken, Swoosie Kurtz, Richard Thomas, Elaine Stritch, Cliff Robertson, Colleen Dewhurst, Jason Robards, and many others. The Square One Theatre Company’s production proves that even without big-name stars, the show will entertain and touch people’s hearts.
Peggy Nelson and Pat Leo in Love Letters
The story centers on Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, played by Pat Leo, and his friend, Melissa Gardner, played by Peggy Nelson. Though both come from the same upper middle class background, they are exact opposites in personality. Andrew is a staid, no-nonsense, play-by-the-rules kind of guy, even at the early age of seven, while Melissa is impulsive, impetuous, lively, and unstable. Through their letters to each other, beginning with simple birthday thank-you notes and summer camp postcards and progressing to their adult lives, we learn more and more about the subtle differences in their upbringings, their different outlooks on life, and their differing personalities.
Yet despite their differences, the two are drawn to each other, keeping up a correspondence that lasts over 50 years. Andrew graduates from Yale, marries, and becomes a lawyer and Senator. Melissa is an artist who also marries and divorces, has a drinking problem, is estranged from her family, and seems always in search of herself. Over the years, their letters to each other become a source of consternation, inspiration, comfort, and love. They do have a brief affair late in life, but it does not last. They both realize that it may be too late for them to make it as a couple, but the love is there nonetheless. These two opposites seem to complete each other.
Love Letters’ simple but elegant staging lends an atmosphere of intimacy to the entire play. Seated at a table, the actors read their letters to each other out loud. There is no script to memorize, yet this is no easy feat for the actors playing the roles. They must depend upon simple tone of voice, facial expressions, and personal nuances to get their characters across, and they both do a superb job. Ms. Nelson’s Melissa is engaging, and I felt her character to be the more interesting of the two. I could feel her questioning and enthusiasm for life. Mr. Leo’s Andrew was also just as he ought to be, bland in a way, except when he wrote to and spoke about Melissa. Both Mr. Leo and Ms. Nelson aptly portray the emotions they feel upon reading the words they sent.
Love Letters is not only an entertaining love story about a bittersweet romance, but also one that celebrates the art of writing. I could not help but think of what some of our younger generation are missing out on in their abbreviated world full of tweets, status updates, and instant messages. Letter writing is an art, and it was the instrument that helped the two characters of this play establish a long and loving relationship that spanned years. I thoroughly enjoyed their sharing those letters with us, and allowing us a glimpse into their special relationship. Love Letters runs through February 20th at the Square One Theatre Company. For tickets, visit the Square One Theatre Company website.