Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Some Connecticut residents will surely recognize echoes and vibrations, perhaps, of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant life. O'Neal's character Andrew Makepeace Ladd III eventually finds his way to Yale. The story traces, through letters, the evolving relationship between Andy and his childhood friend Melissa Gardner (MacGraw). This began when, as seven year olds, the innocent ones swapped cards and such. They were in second grade and the year was 1937. This is but a beginning. Personal revelations are shared inclusive of private school, college, Melissa's alcoholic bouts and despair, and her attempts to realize success as an artist. Ladd, after college, goes to law school, becomes an attorney, a United States Senator ... he is part of a stable marriage for a while, has children. He enjoys writing letters, while Melissa is not so enamored. She wishes for telephone communication. Gurney's script becomes more intimate and touching as these characters age. In all, Love Letters spans half a century of life.
MacGraw and O'Neal sit at a wooden table. The Bushnell sound system (at least for someone watching near the stage) barely amplified the actors on opening night. Thus, some of O'Neal's dialogue (and he tends to lower his voice at the end of a line) might be lost. On the other hand, this actor wisely gives himself the opportunity to animate later; and that he does. McGraw gets inside of Melissa's emotions and vicissitudes skillfullywith poise, varied expression, and soul. All the while they are on stage, the performers, 45 years after they starred in that film called Love Story, once again prove, yes, that "love means never having to say you're sorry." Ali MacGraw, especially, is magnificent.
MacGraw's Melissa is reactive and, sometimes, maybe not to Andy. When he speaks of a woman to whom he's attracted, she is stolid. One always feels the romantic tug which is mutual. Realization or actualization of that? See the production.
A. R. Gurney, who lives in Connecticut, is a gifted and perhaps undervalued playwright (even if The Dining Room and other works have been praised) whose work often depicts life among WASPS. Love Letters premiered in 1988, an era before emails were dominant. It was still possible to carry on a longstanding dialogue through letters. This work is extremely sharp, emotive, richly drawn with an understanding of flawed human beings. It is funny and, by turns, wistful.
Gregory Mosher is the director whose rendering benefits from the chemistry McGraw and O'Neal share. In their mid-seventies, having taken different paths in each of their individual lives, the pair is perfectly at home with this script. That they read lines is not a detriment, since the tour began months ago and each has great facility. Now, unlike back in that day of the tear-jerking movie, each wears necessary eye glasses.
In all, it is a pleasure to attend Love Letters, for one who saw the play several times during the 1990s. The content is known. No surprises of plot are in store. The actors have a gratifying sense of one anotherhard to categorize and achieve. The rhythm and beat of the 95 minute performance shifts but not its veracity. MacGraw and O'Neal, as they deliver the letters' secrets, are tender and vulnerable. The current duo, moving forward on their tour, bring welcome warmth and authenticity.
Love Letters continues at the Bushnell in Hartford, Connecticut through February 14th, 2016. For tickets, call (860) 987-5900 or visit bushnell.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.lovelettersontour.com.