By Karen Isaacs
A. R. Gurney’s Love Letters often makes an appearance at this time of the year. It’s now at MTC (Music Theatre of Connecticut) in Norwalk through February 11.
The play, which premiered at Long Wharf in 1988 is an ideal Valentine’s Day show. It is only partially a love story but more about friendship and missed opportunities. It’s also easy to produce. Two actors, sit at a table and read the letters that each character wrote to the other. No blocking to learn, no props to handle, and no lines to memorize. It’s no wonder that acting couples are prone to do this show.
In fact, MTC has assembled three acting couples, one for each weekend the show runs. Each will undoubtedly bring a different perspective to the characters.
As so many Gurney plays, the characters are those well-to-do (but perhaps not wealthy), WASPs of the northeastern part of the country. We have Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner and we meet them while they are still in elementary school. Andrew has been made to write an apology to Melissa and her mother for some behavior offense. The written letters continue throughout their lifetimes, despite Melissa often proclaiming her hatred for writing letters.
We see them go from elementary school to high school (Andrew sent to a private boys school and Melissa got expelled from several girls schools) to college (Andrew goes to Yale) and then onto careers and marriage. The letters take us well into middle age.
Despite their similar backgrounds, their lives take very different paths. Melissa’s family goes through a divorce, remarriage and another divorce. There is a hint of sexual abuse. Her family may have more money than Andrew’s but it is much less stable.
While Andrew goes to law school (Harvard, of course), becomes a partner in a firm and starts a career in politics, Melissa’s life is more erratic. She is an artist, who divorces and experiments too much with alcohol, possibly drugs, and men.
Time may elapse between letters, but they continue to connect.
Was it possible for them to have a romance? Were they really true loves? Gurney leaves this open. It’s possible while loving they really weren’t suited for each other.
I saw Joanna Gleason and Chris Sarandon (Mr. & Mrs.) in the roles. Gleason’s Melissa seemed more restrained than some I’ve seen; she was quieter and sadder despite various escapades. Sarandon on the other hand let Andrew be more expressive. His ending to the play packed a big emotional punch.
This weekend (Feb. 2-4) features Beverly Ward and Kirby Ward; Feb. 9-11 stars Scott Bryce and Jodi Stevens.
Love Letters is a literate, touching play. For tickets visit MTC or call 203-454-3883.