Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
One of the beauties of this play is its inherent simplicity: each production essentially features two performers seated at a table reading through a collection of letters that chronicle the relationship of Melissa and Andrew from kindergarten to their late middle age. Since each set of actors taking on these roles has the luxury of reading from scripts, the play can be produced almost anywhere, without the need for the performers to have to memorize their lines.
Having seen Gleason onstage in an Off-Broadway production of The Normal Heart as well as in the Broadway musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, it was a gift to bask in her expertise in such an intimate setting. She certainly earned all of the laughs in the script, and she brought more of an inner strength and less vulnerability to the character, making the ultimate heartbreak of Melissa's journey all the more unexpected and profound. It was very special to witness this talented actress return to this role after thirty years.
Knowing Chris Sarandon strictly from film (particularly from his Oscar-nominated performance in Dog Day Afternoon), I found the actor to be just terrific onstage, and he seemed to emphasize Andrew's tenderness for Melissa. This Andrew seemed a little less authoritative, though still strong and funny, than I had seen before. Also, Sarandon's rapport with Gleason was effortless as the two actors played off each other splendidly from beginning to end.
Director Kevin Connors can take a great deal of credit for creating this kind of intimacy and naturalness, and it is a nice touch that Music Theatre of Connecticut added a ten-minute intermission at an appropriate place in the play. Though the play is short, about 90 minutes, being able to take a slight breather from watching the characters go back and forth actually makes the second half more powerful and moving.
The stage looks great at Music Theatre of Connecticut, with a beautiful Oriental rug on the playing area and the wooden table the two actors sit at placed far upstage. The lighting design by Michael Blagys is ideal and Diane Vanderkroef provides the appropriate costumes for the actors. It's anybody's guess how the two upcoming couples in Love Letters will do compared to the grandness of Chris Sarandon and Joanna Gleason, but Kevin Connors is a fine director and, whoever you see will no doubt bring their own riches to the evening.
Love Letters, through February 11, 2018, at Music Theatre of Connecticut in Norwalk CT. Beverly Ward and Kirby Ward will be featured from February 2nd through February 4th and Scott Bryce and Jodi Stevens will be playing the last weekend, February 9th through February 11th. For tickets, please visit www.musictheatreofct.com or call the box office at 203-454-3883.