Theater & Arts

Theater review: 'Love Letters' fails to ignite

I'm not feeling much passion for "Love Letters," which Good Company Players opened last weekend at the 2nd Space Theatre.

While the local production, directed by Karan Johnson, is perfectly serviceable, it struggles to break out of the confines of the script's low-key, musty sensibilities.

When the show opened on Broadway in 1989, one of its appeals was its "epistolary" style -- a fancy way of saying that it is structured as a series of letters between a man and woman over a nearly 50-year period.

The practical impact of this conceit is that the script doesn't have to be memorized because the actors can read their lines.

With minimum rehearsal time required, the play was an opportunity to rotate in pairs of big-name actors not wanting to commit to long Broadway runs.

What "Love Letters" became, then, was a chance to see well-known actors (Timothy Hutton and Elizabeth McGovern, Swoosie Kurtz and Richard Thomas, for example) in live performance.

I submit that the whole thing was a bit of a fad.

The popularity of the prolific playwright A.R. Gurney, who wrote this slight piece on a whim, combined with the chance to see familiar TV faces in person, helped propel the concept along.

The low cost of staging the show, and its minimal set and rehearsal requirements, made it a popular title among community theaters, especially for one-time benefit performances.

Good Company has replicated the rotating cast structure by bringing in four pairs of actors during the show's eight-week run.

Theater veterans Tessa Cavalletto and Noel Adams kicked off the run, and at the opening-night performance I attended, they were fine.

Cavalletto, in particular, is able to bring a depth and warmth to the character of Melissa Gardner -- born into wealth but dogged by a dysfunctional upbringing, alcoholism and general self-doubt -- that has a strong impact.

Adams isn't as thoroughly ensconced in his character, but I suspect that has much to do with Andrew Ladd's general goody-two-shoes stuffiness.

As his character shoots up the social strata, all the way to the highest ranks of government, Melissa correspondingly flounders.

What keeps her going, it seems, is her lifelong love with Andy that never quite seems to gel.

You'd think that nothing could be more universal than a complicated, mostly unrequited love affair, but the play's elite, rarefied boarding-school atmosphere, with its emphasis on wealth and privilege, doesn't make it any easier to connect to the material.

I particularly winced at the chauvinism of Gurney's script, in which the judgmental Andy frowns at Melissa's sexual openness even as he dallies with another "loose" woman.

All a product of the times, I guess, but the play never overcomes the "bad girl pays for her mistakes in the end" message.

It all feels somewhat stale, like watching a repeat of a long-past TV miniseries.

David Pierce's set design doesn't help the musty feel.

The two actors sit at ornate wood writing desks positioned on Oriental-style rugs.

Behind them are heavy curtains with lots of fringed tassels.

It looks like a desert sheik set up a sumptuous tent for the night.

Three more couples will play Melissa and Andrew in the weeks to come (Danielle Jorn and Peter Allwine, Chris Carsten and Amalie Larsen, Amelia Ryan and Gordon Moore).

I'm sure all these accomplished actors will find different nuances to their characters. But with its structure and script, "Love Letters" is a challenge to ignite.


"Love Letters," through June 16, 2nd Space Theatre, 928 E. Olive Ave. (559) 266-0660. $16, $15 students and seniors.