Note-worthy theatre in Love Letters, playing at Toronto Centre for the Arts
Love Letters, the Pulitzer nominated play by A. R. Gurney, follows the relationship between the two characters, Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, over the course of fifty years. It is an epistolary play written as a series of notes, cards and letters back and forth between the two characters.
Their relationship begins in childhood and heats up in adolescence. Andrew, or Andy, is an eloquent and prolific writer who insists on sending letters whereas Melissa is more reticent and less sophisticated with her words. She communicates like a character from a J.D. Salinger novel, complete with outdated colloquial expressions.
Melissa resents the letter writing and blames the words for the pair’s failure to connect in real life.
The two characters always attempt to get closer, physically, sexually and emotionally but circumstances keep them apart.
They marry other people, have children, live their separate lives and finally have an affair in middle age that ends abruptly.
Their relationship is the crux of the play and it is a complicated one. It is heart wrenching because there is no pay-off and no release.
The idea of maintaining this type of long-term, long-distance relationship seems quaint to anyone who came of age in the era of social media and a hundred and forty characters or less. However, it is because I am of a different generation that I am so intrigued by the ties that bind these two people.
Melissa is a muse for Andy. Her dangerousness and rebelliousness bring out the true lover in him. Andy is Melissa’s constant. He balances her and gives her a sense of family she never felt with her blood relatives.
Love Letters relies very heavily on words but the most powerful moments for me were Melissa and Andy’s silences. Pregnant pauses signify the communication hiatuses between the two. I felt the second act moved too quickly through these. I would have liked for the actors to fully immerse themselves in these excruciating silences long enough for the sheer weight of their desperation to drop in my guts.
The set is simple. Melissa and Andy sit at matching desks, side-by-side, with a glass and pitcher of water on both. This staging enhances the feeling of separateness between them. The two characters do not look at each other but read from pages on the desk. They do not leave their seats and this amplifies the tension, rigidity and stasis between them.
I’m not sure I agree with the choice to include scripts on stage though I understand this is an integral component to the play. Generally I find that when actors read onstage, much of their emotion gets played down at the page rather than out toward the audience. Because Melissa and Andy never physically connect with each other, I needed them to make more of an emotional connection with the audience.
- Love Letters is playing till February 3, 2013 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, Studio Theatre (5040 Yonge Street)
- Performances run nightly at 8pm except for Sunday with a matinee at 2pm
- Tickets are $29.50 for evening performances and $28.00 for matinees. Discounts are available for students, seniors, and groups.
- Tickets can be purchased in person at the Toronto Centre Box Office, by phone at 1-855-985-2787 or online
Photo of Merle Garbe and Jerrold Karch by Jim Coles