'Letters') gives much between the lines


May 02, 1991|By J. Wynn Rousuck

Playwright A. R. Gurney has admitted he believes play writing is archaic. Yet, at the risk of piling one archaism on top of another, he has based a play on the seemingly out-dated practice of letter writing.

What's more, "Love Letters" strips theater down to basics -- two actors seated at a table, reading. Yes, reading. Mr. Gurney insists on it.

However, the epistolary script comes alive in the hands of Colleen Dewhurst and George Hearn, who are performing it at the Mechanic Theatre.

K? Admittedly, the built-in limitations of "Love Letters" make

demands on the audience as well as the actors; by definition, the action takes place offstage. But if you let your imagination run with it, the rewards are there, particularly in the poignant second act.

Miss Dewhurst and Mr. Hearn make the journey a pleasure. The characters they portray, Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, are opposites in all but one respect: They're both well-to-do white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

They begin corresponding as children and continue well into middle age as their friendship deepens and their hopes of romance are repeatedly sidetracked. She grows up to be an artist and an alcoholic; he's elected to the U.S. Senate. And through it all they exchange invitations, Christmas cards, postcards and, of course, full-fledged epistles.

Melissa, however, actively resists the latter. More than a little flip, she devotes a good many letters to explaining why she hates writing letters. Miss Dewhurst clearly relishes Melissa's rebelliousness. Her silent reactions while listening to Andy's letters are as eloquent as her speech, particularly her exasperation with his photocopied Christmas letter.

Andy, on the other hand, is a prim, respectable straight arrow, although Mr. Hearn imbues him with warmth and likability. He makes it easy to understand what a non-conformist like Melissa sees in him.

In previous productions, "Love Letters" has often been performed by rotating casts, a situation made possible the minimal rehearsal needs. At the Mechanic, Miss Dewhurst and Mr. Hearn will be appearing for the whole month-long run. But audiences definitely should not feel shortchanged. Both veterans previous "Love Letters" productions, the two have never performed it together until now -- though reportedly they have wanted to. It's easy to see why.

The correspondence of Melissa Gardner and Andrew Ladd jusmight inspire you to pick up the old Parker and jot down a few lines to a friend. You could start by recommending this play.

"Love Letters" continues at the Mechanic Theatre through Ma26; call 625-1400.

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