by David K. Rodgers
GREENSBORO – The Lakeside Players gave two performances of “Love Letters” by Albert Ramsdell Gurney at the Highland Center for the Arts in Greensboro on August 24 and August 27.
This play, which originally appeared in 1988, starred Daphne Ostle and Vince Rossano and was directed by Rosann Hickey, with technical direction by Ashe Mattos.
The overarching structure of the drama was very linear, beginning in 1937 with a boy and girl in second grade who start a relationship that will last for over 40 years, recorded in numerous post cards and letters as they grow up and pursue their separate trajectories.
Gurney creates, with what amounts to almost anthropological detail, two believable characters from the upper middle class of New York and New England in their coming-of-age and mature lives. Ostle played Melissa Gardner and Rossano had the role of Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, the former from the start a rebel, the latter much more a conformist. Her family background was chronically dysfunctional while his mother and father were more loving and supportive.
Though Andrew and Melissa were very different, they had a lifelong attraction and need for each other despite roller coaster interludes.
Someone once said that “love is not chemistry, it’s alchemy”, which means that love is not readily analyzable and predictable but often depends on unconscious elements of which we are only vaguely aware.
Not until the end does Andrew realize how deep his love for Melissa was over so many years, and what was nominally a childhood friendship sustained into adulthood was somehow a kind of “opposites attract” magnetism that balanced his otherwise conventional career, fulfilling his parents expectations in education, marriage and work.
Staging a play with just two people is a challenge, especially since they sit in chairs the whole time and have no movements around the stage. The playwright created this work to be presented from scripts in hand. Their correspondence was presented in fast-moving dialogue with a fine momentum in Gurney’s engaging writing. As there is hardly any physical component in a production of the piece it then becomes incumbent upon the actors to use their faces as much as possible to add visual interest in reinforcing the text, not only in speaking their own lines but in reacting to those of the other person, and to look up from reading as well, over and above the nuanced modulations in voice.
Andrew was the one who from his youth loved to write letters, feeling that was the best way to express himself, while Melissa did not enjoy writing at all and usually gave him short, pithy replies to his long epistles. Actually “Love Letters” is something of a comedy, despite its sad ending, with well-paced humor most of which come in witty if cynical repartee from Melissa, who rejected most of the culture in which she finds herself trapped.
Andrew’s life story was a continuous success judging by the usual standards, from prep school through college, a naval stint, then law school, practice in a prestigious New York Law firm, marriage, three sons, and culminating in becoming a Congressional Senator. By contrast, Melissa’s live proceeded from an unhappy childhood to a promising career in painting, but then through a deteriorating spiral of a failed marriage, alcoholism and a premature death.
In a surprising twist near the end of the play, they had a brief physical affair that went beyond their long term friendship but soon proved unsustainable.
Ostle and Rossano performed “Love Letters” with excellent professional acting skills, maintaining the audience’s attention throughout the almost two hours of its show. The Highland Center technical staff provided fine lighting and sound as well as atmospheric incidental music. Rosann Hickey coordinated everyone’s work, helping them to bring the script to life, resulting in a lively theatrical experience.
The Lakeside Players, who previously presented Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milk Wood” before the COVID shutdown, hope to have future plays at the Highland Center that continue the tradition of genuine community theater in this area. For more information, contact email@example.com.