Constructing a letter … such a meaningful but disappearing mode of communication ….you put “your best self on paper” as stated by one of the players in this telling play….especially when composing the love letter – a lost art. There’s a reason we keep our love letters forever – we can’t bear to throw them out. So we hide them in a special place – they are unique, sacrosanct, personal – proof of our real, better selves of a time and place long ago and far away.
Ah, those were the days….those were MY days.
You spill out a myriad of thoughts on carefully selected writing paper and put great deliberation and drive into emotionally packed sentences highlighted with some mighty clever quips – not to mention the meticulous attention paid to your penmanship. You take great care in addressing the envelope, purchase a stamp, and search for a mail box…. Now how can the rapidity of electronic, digitized email zapped thru cyberspace in a nano second ever replace the intensity, work and time that goes into a hand written actual letter that will arrive days after it is mailed… and how telling is one’s personal handwriting? An actual OBJECT verifying one’s ideas and feelings, a testament of mind and ultimately memory… sealed with a kiss? cautiously perfumed? These were not Shakespearean sonnets, but honest from the heart emotions on paper – perhaps not perfectly penned – but always meaningful, emotive and sincere.
A play like A. R. Gurney’s “Love Letters” currently running at the Brooks Atkinson is a large leap back into a set, carefully organized, measured world – a time and place teeming with social conventions and constraints – surely a different culture then our own. One in which words on paper created a permanence lacking in today’s disposable – i.e. press “delete” – society.
This is a pitch perfect, a capella duet, a two character drama clearly defined by prominent treble and bass lines – sometimes in harmony, sometimes solo, yet always resonate with sharps, flats, overtones and undertones. A raw, male/female absorbing story of perpendicular, crisscrossed, intersected lives. Melissa is the moneyed, liberal artist and Andy the responsible, constricted “WASP” – performed with no sets, no costumes, no blocking, no stage direction/ movement and no intermission. A continuous, strictly verbal play in which two adult characters of a “certain age” sit at a table and read the chronology of their lives – using only their letters to each other to tell their tale – while directly addressing an audience of rapt theater goers. The actors on stage never look at each other. What follows are two lives unfolding with all the conflicts, joys, ditsy details, tragedies, ironies, absurdities – and the strength (or lack thereof) necessary to get thru it all. Such an intense, overwhelmingly compelling game of verbal volleyball – with an evolving, yet revolving score of “love” continuously underscoring this “match.” You never quite know where the ball will bounce, you are not even certain if it will clear the net. I was totally drawn into this world of words … although often silence speaks louder … what is not said, says much. The actors may never move on stage, but make no mistake – this play is full of action emanating from the head and soul of this duo, ultimately hitting the hearts of the audience in some surprisingly unexpected ways.
A.R. Gurney has written a remarkable, intimate piece of theatre and the Brooks Atkinson Theatre presents the perfect venue. The two players- I was fortunate to catch it with the legendary Carol Burnett and marvelous Brian Dennehy- must modulate thru a seamless antithesis – from innocence to experience, from the comic to the serious, from young to old. Indeed, the players seem to actually physically grow on stage, they are just that good in their roles – and recreate duel lives using only the written word, their own natural talent and every ounce of their stage skills. Every facial movement, hand action, eye contact, inflection, every tonal nuance and vocal dynamic must fit and further the story. You have to be at the top of your acting game to deliver this narrative duet while playing only from the waist up! Ultimately a depth of maturity is called for here, so rarely seen on stage.
The two person cast is a revolving one for this 2014 extending into early 2015 showing. Here’s the expected lineup:
Candice Bergen /Alan Alda – November 9 – December 18
Diana Rigg / Stacy Keach – December 19 – January 9
Anjelica Huston / Martin Sheen – January 10 – February 15
What an array of talent, and each will bring their own singular strengths to their role. What possibilities!
An intelligent, closely felt, moving drama is hard to find these days on Broadway. The Great White Way seems riddled with some real nonsense. Don’t let a night of theater at its purest go by, this opportunity may very well never again occur; there are not many producers around willing to take bold risks any more. Such an amazing, legendary cast of players waiting in the wings, it’s a win/win.
Now for a bit of truth…do you still have love letters buried in a drawer, and if so, what would those letters say about you? Let’s talk in the comments below!
By: Joanne Theodorou