Love Letters is a subtle and well-acted romance aimed at those with a healthy attention span
While driving to Carson City to see Love Letters, I must admit I was very afraid. I was battling a nasty bout of the flu, and I knew nothing about the play except for the title. I was afraid of a sickly-sweet romance that might upset the delicate balance of my flu-ridden stomach.
I was pleasantly surprised. Despite its title, Love Letters is not dripping with Hallmark card sentimentality. Instead, it is a bittersweet, realistic story of two people who care about one another but whose romance suffers a lifetime of obstacles.
The play has only two characters, Andrew and Melissa. The entire script consists of letters written between the two throughout the course of their lives. The set consists merely of a table where the actors (Peter L. Coates and L. Martina Young) sit and read their correspondence to the audience. With no scenery, sound effects or costume changes, the play relies entirely on its script and the delivery thereof.
Coates and Young give strong performances. It is no mean feat to carry this type of show, but they pull it off and show strong chemistry despite never so much as making eye contact. There were a few points where I would have expected more impassioned vocal intonation, but I believe director Jeanmarie Simpson made the right call on the side of subtlety.
For the most part, the script is well written, and the construct is quite clever. However, it seemed to me that playwright A.R. Gurney occasionally felt stifled by the constraints of his own format. In particularly intense moments of the characters’ relationship, the script turned to rapid-fire dialogue that felt implausible. How often do people write one sentence or part of a sentence, put it in an envelope, stamp it, and mail it to someone? I found these dialogue scenes unnecessary, as the biggest emotional punch came from what the characters conspicuously omitted from their letters.
The two characters are well drawn. As the 90-minute play follows them from second grade to middle age, they grow up while remaining true to their essential selves. Melissa has an impetuous, artistic spirit and is usually on the edge of some type of breakdown, while Andrew is ambitious, disciplined and emotionally stable. The contrast in the characters’ personalities makes their letters all the more interesting, and their romantic prospects all the more bleak.
Overall, I thought the play was well written and well performed. Though it’s not terribly exciting, I found the characters interesting and was able to pay attention throughout the performance despite having the Reno Death Flu. My level of engagement was not universally felt. One audience member loudly snored throughout the entire first act, and the already paltry crowd dwindled at intermission. Love Letters is certainly not for everyone.
That said, I commend the Proscenium Players for taking on such a subtle, difficult play and executing it with understated aplomb. For those who enjoy the quiet arts, Love Letters may inspire you to pick up a fountain pen and find a confidante of your own.