Review by Terry Gaisin
Six months ago, my muse critiqued West End Studio Theatre’s staging of the 1988 A.R. Gurney drama LOVE LETTERS. This time the much-requested reprise will receive my own evaluation…also a positive assessment, but seen and observed from a different view point or mindset. The play deals with two upper-class New England youngsters circa 1938 who iterate their relationship via handwritten correspondence, and continue to do so over the next half-century. Through their epistles, the audience follows their intersecting lives.
Theatre should always manage to bestow something on the audience. Whether its entertainment; thought provocation; education or an emotional catharsis, there must be a value that crosses over the footlights. Although the actors are completely sedentary throughout the performance, seated together at a large table; they are physically (and metaphysically) so far apart that references to diverse state or international residences clarify the distances. Andrew Ladd III is devoted to writing & correspondence; Melissa Gardner only writes through social demands. Andrew can express himself succinctly; Melissa usually abbreviates and includes scatology. The two protagonists are Chris Reid and Diane Brokenshire who also starred in WEST’s Love Letters 1.0.
Their changing mores as they age; their divergent responses to each other as they mature; and the contradictory life passages they experience are what make the play so mesmerizing and fascinating. We are totally involved with their lives and perhaps even experience moments of empathetic parallels within our own life experiences. The summer camp requisite letters home and obligatory thank-you’s were an onerous duty that I remember with some distaste! I relish the advantages of email & Skype™ over my still-functioning Parker 61.
Watching two performers reading from scripts may sound vacuous, but in the hands of talented thespians, even the dramatic & emphatically silent pauses convey emotion. The accompanying facial expressions underscore every gripping moment. Reid & Brokenshire exhibit an intimate and intuitive thespian relationship that achieves the reality the play must reach if it’s to succeed. No wonder so many on and off-Broadway co-stars and even married couples have actively sought out the opportunity to present this iconic play. The spiritual as well as tangible connection between both characters is visceral and feels authentic. Their progressive lives may diverge but the connection is steadfast throughout. Older folks (especially those who grew up in Quebec) will appreciate & identify with the references to vacations on Saranac Lake; Placid and Whiteface Mountain. The finishing schools and University choices are pointedly standardized for certain societal levels and thus seem to be diary excerpted. It all rings true even for the philosophical Melissa writing from France about ‘Plus de la change; plus de la same shit’. Words to live by.
LOVE LETTERS will be at WEST – 1109 N. Service Road, E in Oakville until Saturday evening.