Story: The intertwined lives of Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner are depicted through the letters, postcards and notes they send to each other from the time they first meet in grade school to half a century later. Their correspondence delineates the dreams and ambitions, hopes and disappointments and the frustrations and accomplishments each experience, both with and without each other as they hurt and help one another through life.
Highlights: Playwright A.R. Gurney notes that his “sort of a play” for two performers requires “no theater, no lengthy rehearsal, no special set, no memorization of lines and no commitment from its two actors beyond the night of performance.” It’s an ideal show to be presented around Valentine’s Day, which is exactly what Avalon Theatre co-founders Erin Kelley and her husband Larry Mabrey did last weekend. Their splendid and touching performances were both a bouquet to each other and their loyal audiences as well as appreciation for the folks behind the Crestwood Court ArtSpace experiment, which is ending shortly.
Other Info: Avalon Theatre, which has offered presentations at ArtSpace since the venue’s creation a few years ago, is moving later this year to Grand Center, where it will perform at the Grand Center Arts Academy. Kelley, managing artistic director for Avalon, and Mabrey, its producing artistic director, seemed thoroughly engaged in their rewarding rendition of Love Letters, their first mutual performance since they originally met in 1986.
Sitting on opposite sides of a reading table on the sparsely lit stage, they demonstrated how two polished professionals can take well-written prose by an accomplished playwright such as Gurney and, with minimal action, turn it into an absorbing and poignant evening of theater. In two acts that played out in less than two hours under the incisive and telling direction of Joneal Joplin, Kelley and Mabrey conveyed the disparate personalities of their characters while also emphasizing their underlying love and passion, emotions too often unrealized by Andy and Melissa as they matured from children into adults.
Each actor also revealed as much about his or her character by their facial expressions when not speaking as when they read their own missives. Andy’s writing is lengthy and overly detailed, which tends to annoy the more expressive and impatient Melissa. Her responses to his carefully constructed and overwrought prose show the chasm between their personalities while also underscoring the strong bridge of the too-often unspoken love they share. The lack of response by one to the other at particularly painful and insensitive notes is equally telling.
Tragically, that inability to really communicate with each other, particularly on Andy’s part, leads to periods of profound sadness, even as they each marry and follow their ambitions, she for a career in art and he for a profession in law and politics that is as carefully mapped out as Melissa’s is haphazard and spontaneous.
Mabrey’s controlled body language and prim appearance matched Andy’s stiff, orthodox upbringing as much as Kelley’s movements and gestures showed Melissa’s passions and life-long unhappiness. With nary a moment to vary the static setting of their epistolary ‘dialogue,’ both performers made the presentation memorable with the subtle nuances of their reading, augmented by Joplin’s precise pacing and Gurney’s surprisingly dark and complex script.
Love Letters was a beautiful Valentine’s Day bouquet and an inspired selection by Avalon Theatre as it exits one notable venue for another with equal promise.
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Play: Love Letters
Group: Avalon Theatre Company
Venue: ArtSpace, Crestwood Court, Sappington at Watson
Dates: Run concluded