A relationship plays out in a series of letters at the Fairview Library Theatre in Toronto
In Love Letters, the critically acclaimed play by American playwright, A. R. Gurney, two childhood friends take to the stage and read aloud the letters they have written to each other over the span of half a century. Throughout this dialogue-driven production, we learn of their long history of friendship, loss and missed opportunities. Together, this couple shows us the power in the written word and that it’s our first love that’s often the hardest to forget.
The Stage Centre Productions‘ adaptation, currently playing at the Fairview Library Theatre, features four pairings performing on stage for a nine-show run. I had the privilege to attend the June 12 screening, with Judy Gans and Roger Kell.
Love Letters is different than most pieces of theatre you’ll see. It’s considered to be an epistolary work, rather than a traditional piece that combines dialogue, narration and action. Simply put, the format is one that relies exclusively on dialogue. The two actors sit side-by-side at a table and read their scripted material — the love letters their characters have written to each other.
It’s a format that’s rather niche due to its lack of movement or action. The audience must pay close attention to each and every word that’s being said. I think pieces like this one would be most enjoyed by those who don’t need or want a big visual spectacle to enjoy a play.
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this adaptation.
From an editorial and narrative standpoint, the writing is clean, witty and subtle. As the characters grow older, so too does the tone and nature of their letters. It allows the audience to experience the growth and aging of the characters without needing to see the actors physically age.
Gurney has created a memorable pairing who, while having completely different attitude towards life, balance each other’s personalities marvellously. Melissa Gardner is a richer-than-rich free spirit who goes through life as she pleases without much regard to how others see her. Andrew Makepeace Ladd III is her complete opposite, living a life of duty to his parent’s expectations while always doing what is expected of him.
As the play progresses, we learn of various events that our main characters have experienced. Some are joyous. Some are tragic. But eventually, they lead this duo back to each other for a brief moment, before they’re torn tragically apart. It’s really quite an interesting and compelling narrative.
With regards to the acting, Judy Gans and Roger Kell performed spectacularly. And since dialogue is all this play has, that’s quite a feat in my opinion. Without their strong performances, I easily would have tuned out.
Gans delivered a diverse range of emotions in her table read. She was able to effortlessly channel the whimsy of her character in her youth as well as her despair later in life. Her energy was infectious and helped my connect more personally with the material.
For his part, Kell excelled as the up-tight, do-right type. Stuffy and stubborn, Kell gave a dramatic performance that you couldn’t help by pay attention to. Towards the end, there’s a dramatic soliloquy given by his character. Kell gave a teary eyed read of the script, which moved many of the audience members to tears as well.
Love Letters is the moving tale of two clandestine friends and lovers whose circumstances forever kept them apart. If you’re looking for a deeply emotional tale of love and loss, but don’t require a grand theatrical spectacle, this play is for you.
- Love Letters is currently playing until June 20th at the Fairview Library Theatre (35 Fairview Mall Drive)
- Four different couples will be on stage over nine performances. Read specific dates here.
- Tickets cost $27.50 for adult general admission, and $22.00 for students and seniors. They’re available online or at the box office prior to the show.
- There is also a special 2-for-1 special for repeat bookings.
- The script contains moments that aren’t entirely politically correct, so a bit of viewer discretion is advised.
Photo of Judy Gans and Roger Kell by Fabio Saposnik.