“Love Letters” at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre (Closed February 15th, 2015)

November 13, 2014 | Broadway | Tags:
Written by A.R. Gurney
Directed by Gregory Mosher
With Alan Alda and Candice Bergen through December 3rd 2014
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow
Theatre Reviews Limited

By now you’ve discovered the horrible truth, that A.R. Gurney’s ‘Love Letters’ is essentially a staged reading with a $127 price tag, but veteran director Gregory Mosher couldn’t have made a more fitting decision. The play follows the written correspondence of Andrew Ladd and Melissa Gardner, two upper-crust kids growing up, starting careers, creating families, and eventually fading into old age in a melancholic hour and a half. Although a table, two chairs and scripts may seem unfulfilling at first, Andrew and Melissa have as much relationship to the words they’ve written as they have to each other. The reading of the letters, the actual reading of them, gives the play its sacred quality.

Having just finished a run with Brian Dennehy and Carol Burnett, Alan Alda and Candice Bergen step into Andrew and Melissa’s shoes with sad and subtle elegance. Alda nears perfection as Andrew, a stuffy, stalwart, emotionally confused man who allows his responsibilities to throttle his attempts at happiness. Bergen is less fitted as the manic Melissa. She can’t always summon Melissa’s passion, a shame too, since it’s the key to her character’s ultimate demise. Then again, Melissa isn’t written as strongly as Andrew, (not surprising, since her character is more reluctant when it comes to letter writing) but the dynamic between the two often stumbles off balance.

But the seamless direction of Gregory Mosher ensures the play strikes emotional pay dirt. For all the volumes read by Andrew and Melissa it’s the chilling silences when the pair aren’t writing (or are writing one-sidedly, as is usually the case) that hit like a steamroller. As the pair age, it’s what isn’t said between them that packs the most punch.

‘Letter Writing’ is a dying art, says Gurney in 1989. How right he was. The play bathes in nostalgia, right down to Andrew and Melissa’s mode of correspondence. Argot about the greatest generation encrusts the wistful ‘Love Letters’ but this is the opposite of a history lesson. It’s a sad and saccharine waltz through time, about the limitations of love and the mental torment of missed opportunities.