By Ruth Ferguson, NDG Editor
In Love Letters, we discover the chemistry between Ryan O’Neil and Ali MacGraw is still a winning combination. We first fell in love with them when they co-starred in the award winning film Love Story in the 1970. In Love Letters we see hints of the same characters with their balance of steady and stable versus free spirit and spunk. This play is a little unusual but for theater goers that give it a try, it is a journey across the years you will enjoy!
Like their previous pairing, Ali brings a playful spirit to her character Melissa Gardner who is ready to take on the world. Meanwhile Ryan’s Andrew Makepeace Ladd III is more cautious (as his middle name implies), but always drawn to and inspired by Melissa over the years. The story follows their nearly 50 years of friendship and at times courtship through the letters they exchange.
The story, written by A.R. Gurney, begins when Andrew accepts an invitation to a party for Melissa. Although his first letter is an RSVP to her mother, from there the two kids begin exchanging missives. Sometimes
Ali can make a scene sparkle with her playful body language as she taunts a stuffy Andrew. Left up to Melissa, they would ditch the letters and simply pick up the phone. But Andrew’s response discussing the virtues of actually writing a letter to someone is something the text, emoji and Snapchat loving audience should keep in mind.
All is not bliss in their letters, over a lifetime how can it be? There are times the friends hurt each other deeply and their silence is deafening. Both performers convey a great deal with a turned head or a glassy stare ahead.
The stage is very simple, a desk for the performers, a single lamp in the background. Given the fact the letters are sent across the decades to different locations, simplicity was the best option. You have a sense of them reading the treasured letters alone where ever the letter epistle finds the reader. The lighting has more impact in the final moments of the production.
As an avid audiobook listener, the Love Letters experience felt very natural for me, but perhaps will take a moment for audiences to adjust if they are surprised to not see the performers “do something.” However, their reading of the letters aloud puts the emphasis on where it should be – the heartfelt words between friends. Days later I still find myself thinking about this play and I am barely resisting the temptation to see it again.
It is a treat to see this familiar couple on stage in Dallas as a part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center production. Love Letters’ Dallas run is through April 3. Spring is a time for renewal and rediscover and it is a perfect time to reunite with Ali and Ryan.