Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
Gurney's play has but two characters: Andrew Makepeace Ladd III (North Carolina favorite Ira David Wood III) and Melissa Gardner (the delightful Sandy Duncan of television, film and theatre fame). The two actors sit side by side at their own tables on an otherwise bare stage and read notes, letters and cards that span nearly fifty years, from the characters' childhoods through late adulthood. It is exclusively through these handwritten pieces of themselves that we learn who these people are, the courses their lives take, and the hopes and dreams, defeats and disappointments they encounter along the way. Through this correspondence, Andy and Melissa develop and nurture a bond that outlasts pretty much every other relationship they have, even though they are physically apart for much of their lives.
Director Guy Stroman might have little to worry about with a production that requires only two actors who can read directly from their scripts. This, however, does not diminish the emotional impact, and that is due to the strength of the play itself, written by Mr. Gurney with great sensitivity to the passing of time. He has thought intently about the differences of voice evident in the writing styles of children versus adults, and he makes use of telling genres at different times, such as the forced letter of apology or thanks mandated by a parent. He also has taken into consideration how emotion and consequence can be found not only through the writing of a letter but through not writing one as well.
Since the actors never leave their desks, the passing of time is ably conveyed by Christina L. Munich's lighting design, a series of cycloramic washes, muted hues that shift with each new phase of correspondence and intensify at emotional moments.
Mr. Wood's versatility as an actor is best exemplified by his use of inflection, convincingly shifting from an 8-year-old youth to a man of position in his later years. Ms. Duncan is equally effective in her humorous and moving portrayal of Melissa, in a single performance illustrating how she has remained an endearing personality over her lengthy career. It is in the hands of these two professionals that this play attains a level of theatricality that lingers in one's mind and heart.
Andrew says it best when he answers Melissa's question about why they must continue to communicate through letters and not the phone. These letters represent "giving myself to you across a distance, not keeping or retaining any part of it for myself ... You can tear me up and throw me out, or keep me and read me today, tomorrow, anytime you want, until you die." This is not unlike the playwright who, in his writing, presents a love letter that can be treasured by audiences over and over again.
Love Letters is presented by North Carolina Theatre in the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium through January 21, 2018. North Carolina Theatre is located at 2 East South St., Raleigh NC. Tickets can be purchased online at www.nctheatre.com or by phone at 919-831-6941, ext. 6944.
Playwright: A.R. Gurney