“Love Letters,” the two-character drama by A.R. Gurney which opened an abbreviated one-week run Tuesday at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI, is a deceptively simple theatrical offering.
There is no set, only two desks, side-by-side, each holding a folder and a glass of water with pitcher. There are no props to speak of, excepting the glass, pitcher and the pages in the folder which holds the script for the play (a Pulitzer Prize finalist).
There are no costume changes, very few lighting variations and minimal movement, yet the lives of two people are created from notes, cards and letters exchanged throghout the years.
What then, you may ask, is the attraction of this piece for the many acting duos, famous and not, who have settled down to breathe life into Gurney’s protagonists?
On the surface, one would say it’s because there is little or no rehearsal time required and no memorization. But ask actors Robert Newman and Penelope Alex who share the stage at The Barn, and somewhere in their answers would be facing the challenge of bringing to life two people whose relationship covers half a century without the benefit of old age makeup or (upright) body language.
They do it all while seated at their respective desks. No standing allowed, except walking on and off the stage.
The fascination is watching their characters grow from elementary school age to definitely senior citizens; of feeling the shifts in their relationship as financial, emotional and physical changes play definite parts in their friendship.
The roller coaster highs and lows of their lives never seem to find them in the same space at the same ti yet their connection is constant.
There may be no memorization required, but as Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, Alex and Newman never appeared to be reading from their scripts, so well defined and clearly delineated were the shifts as time and circumstances repeatedly brought them together and kept them apart.
Both grew up in a restricted, segregated community where money and family were the keys. She was wealthy and always the rebel, an artist who cared little for the opinion of others until it was too late. And she hated writing letters. He had the ancestry but not the money until he headed into banking and politics, almost tragically aware of what others thought. And he was in love with writing.
Their eventual resolution was inevitable.
The talented actors nuanced their multi-aged characters with honesty, warmth and a solid core. In addition to being a thoroughly entertaining evening, it was a lesson in what can be done by two excellent actors with minimal externalization and a solid mastery of their craft.
”LOVE LETTERS” plays through Sunday in the theater on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121.