'Love Letters' is nothing but two actors reading on stage, and it's terrific

Theater

November 06, 1990|By Lou Cedrone

''Love Letters'' has only two actors on stage. Both sit at a table reading letters to each other. The play, at the National Theater in Washington, lasts no longer than 94 minutes, with one intermission included, but those 94 minutes are more entertaining than a dozen other plays that come to mind.

''Love Letters'' was written by A.R. Gurney (''Cocktail Hour''), the playwright who has become the official dramatic spokesman for the American WASP community.

The two characters in ''Love Letters'' are privileged WASPs, people who know wealth, good schools and horses, and yet, their drama is universal. Anyone can identify with these people because they are, first, human.

She is Melissa Gardner, and he is Andrew Makepeace Ladd III. They first know each other when they are in the lower schools, she in one, he in another.

They correspond from the beginning, and we know from their letters that she is a renegade and that he is far more conservative. She marries and divorces twice and has two children. He marries once and has three.

It is in their later years that they consummate their relationship, when he is campaigning for political office and she is doing her best to stay alive.

''Love Letters'' is about life as these two people have lived it, but their lives are not that different from most. In the end, money means little, as Melissa says. It may make the road easier, but it in no way guarantees you happiness.

''Love Letters,'' as humorous as it is touching, was first presented at the New York Public Library. Well received, it was done in New Haven, then it returned to New York where it filled engagements at both the Promenade and Edison theaters.

The play drew special attention, first, because it was entertaining, and second, because the actors kept changing. Because both performers read from prepared texts, it is easy enough to replace one actor with another and in the months the show has been playing, in cities about the country, Colleen Dewhurst, George Peppard, E.G. Marshall, Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach have been among those who have ''read'' the roles.

Dewhurst and Marshall are currently doing the show at the National, in Washington, and they are, of course, superb. The roles may be made easy by the ''readings,'' but these are roles to which actors must bring something, and these two do.

''Love Letters'' will continue at the National for six weeks. Dewhurst and Marshall are likely to be replaced by other names because that's the way the show has been going. If you want to catch Dewhurst and Marshall in the leads, better get over there as soon as possible. They are worth it. The play is worth it.

''Love Letters''

*** Melissa and Andrew, friends since childhood, continue a correspondence through their adult years.

CAST: Colleen Dewhurst, E.G. Marshall

DIRECTOR: John Tillinger

RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes with one intermission

TICKETS: (202) 628-6161

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