Love Letters

By A.R. Gurney. Genesian Theatre. Director Richard Cotter. 13-28 Jan, 2024

Reviewed : January 14, 2024

Photo : Grant Fraser

When A.R. Gurney described his play Love Letters as needing “no theatre, no lengthy rehearsal, no special set, no memorisation, and no commitment from its two actors beyond the night of performance”, he failed to explain what actors and directors could do with this unusual script.

Written in 1988, the play is a series of letters and cards written by Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner. Their correspondence begins in elementary school during the 1930s and follows the writers to boarding school, summer camps, college and into their later lives. Born to relatively well-to-do American families, their letters tell of their challenges and triumphs, and the effects of changing times and circumstances.

Photo : Grant Fraser

In performance, Love Letters becomes much more than just a reading. As in the play 84 Charing Cross Road, when the words are spoken the feelings of the writers can be expressed more honestly. In their intonation and their faces the actors can inject the messages between the lines in the letters … especially if the actors reading the letters are “partners in life and theatre”.

Tricia Youlden and Richard Cotter met 30 years ago in a production of King Lear. They have appeared together on stage and film in over eighteen productions. Who better to bring the lovely characters of Love Letters to life than actors who have created so many characters together – and shared as many life experiences as the characters A.R Gurney created?

Their interpretation of Andy Ladd and Melissa Gardner bring much more than “commitment’ to the characters. They begin by creating the youthful voices of the childhood friends, a little hesitant as the simple sentences of the early letters suggest, then ‘grow’ with them as their writing becomes more complex.

Cotter’s Andy becomes more confident, sharing his beginning love of writing with smiles and more complex sentences. Melissa, on the other hand, is less interested in writing, and Youlden shows this in querulous disinterest, gazing beyond the words she has written. This contrast in t

heir characters becomes more noticeable as they move into their teens and their letters expose the effects of their different family environments.

Photo : Grant Fraser

Cotter uses his eyes, a cheeky grin, a thoughtful expression, a gentle smile to give Andy greater dimension as he matures and begins to realise his hopes and ambitions.

For Melissa, more social and outgoing, Youlden uses flippant tones, a little petulance and impatience… eventually admitting her envy of Andy’s more stable family.

As the letters take them through work, marriage and children, Youlden and Cotter sit a little differently, turn the pages of their lives more hesitantly, look beyond the audience a little more wistfully … or fearfully …

Love Letters covers over 50 years in the lives of Melissa and Andy as America and the world changes around them. Their story is funny and moving – and told touchingly in this production by two skilled, perceptive performers.

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine