Photo by Danny Lam
By Keilani Fleming, Guest Blogger
Lone Tree Arts Center presents Love Letters, an intimate two person play in an equally intimate setting. A.R. Gurney’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play, normally staged with nothing more than two actors and a pile of letters seated next to each other, has been expanded to a fully staged set, including props and space for the characters to dance, sometimes literally, around each other.
Love Letters follows the relationship highs, lows, and in-betweens of Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, from precocious 2nd grade ramblings of children to the heart-breaking, one sided letter to a love lost. Whereas this play clocks in around an hour and a half, it spans an entire 50 year lifetime.
Mark Rubald plays the proper and upstanding Andy Ladd easily and with a likable charm, even when he’s sometimes doing unlikable things. It’s hard to capture the frantic and sometimes confused energy of a child when you are, in fact, a full grown adult, but Rubald is able to convince the audience he is that ball of energy. Rubald’s transitions are smooth throughout Andy’s life, as each life stage clicks, almost audibly, into place with his energy visibly calming as age and maturity set in.
Candy Brown’s performance of Melissa Gardner is a bit more complicated. The character never really grows up even as time passes around her. Many of her letters, mannerisms, and actions could as easily be plucked from a pre-teen as they could be attributed to the adult Brown is sometimes portraying. That lack of growth is built into Brown’s character through Gurney’s writing, as the trauma of her upbringing stagnates maturity but because of Melissa’s inherited wealth, she isn’t burdened with the necessity of growing up at the same pace as the average person.
Rubald’s performance seems more rehearsed, with him looking less at the letters and more towards the audience whereas Brown’s performance references the “love letters” far more often, feeling more like the original adaption of Gurney’s play. Though Brown’s delivery is a bit less polished than Rubald, it is in her moments of silence when she really shines. The subtlety in her facial expressions as she receives the letters is where your attention should be, which makes this staging particularly difficult. The characters are often on opposite sides of the stage so the audience can’t watch both Andy as he reads his letter and Melissa as she reacts to it.
Seated a few rows back and as close to the center as possible will give the best viewing of the performance as the staging has the actors almost exclusively facing forward even though a third of the seats in the auditorium are perpendicular to the set. Due to the size of the auditorium, however, there is no “bad” seat, and even if there was, the writing of A.R. Gurney is truly the star of the show.
Love Letters, directed by Bruce K. Sevy and starring Candy Brown and Mark Rubald, plays the Lone Tree Arts Center from Thursday, November 9, 2017 through Sunday, November 19, 2017.