Theatre Review: CATCO’s Love Letters Celebrates Love Throughout the Years
As Valentine’s Day approaches, sentiments abound regarding the day itself. From a Hallmark introduced “holiday” to promote sales in cards, flowers, and candy to a day to commemorate “love” by spending as much as possible on a fancy dinner or jewelry to a day of the week that exacerbates the loneliness single people may feel. Love does not work in the way Valentine’s Day pushes for. Love can—and should—be celebrated year round, just as veterans should be honored beyond Memorial and Veteran’s Days. CATCO’s production of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, while certainly utilizing Valentine’s Day for the run, looks beyond the mere day to love throughout, not just one year, but many.
The play premiered in 1988 at the New York Public Library. It centers on two characters: Melissa Gardner, a privileged, yet distraught wasp girl and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, a slightly less rich, but still well-to-do boy from New York State. Through letters exchanged by the two over the course of their lives, the audience hears them share stories, jokes, drawings, fears, desires, and hope.
Love Letters performs in the epistolary form, where the performers sit and read cards and letters exchanged over fifty years, almost like a staged reading. This can seem confusing at first, especially since the play begins with the characters as children. Without actor movement, it can prove quite challenging to imagine the characters as children, particularly when little changes in their mannerisms as the characters age. When no set, costume, lighting, or sound changes occur, the actors own the focus—they own the stage, and it feels like the audience does not receive much from that tall order. Certainly not at the play’s onset, as it seems like the actors are reading as they are now: adults.
CATCO turns the one-act play into a two part piece, where the first half features Melissa and Andy as children up until college. The latter, and much more interesting, act focuses on their careers, families, and struggles with adulthood, responsibility, and their feelings towards one another. It seems obvious that the pair would not work in a husband and wife situation; it feels fantastical though that they would maintain a friendship for fifty years. And therein lays the magic, wonder, and beauty of this play. No matter what happens to either of them, they manage to go back and reconnect with the other, a habit I perceive is quickly escaping our society.
Delightfully, each of the three weekends of the run features a different Columbus performing arts couple. Dani Karshner and Mark Mann (opening weekend), Sarah and Robert Behrens (second), and Patricia and Truman Winbush (final weekend) all perform in this play. Kudos to CATCO for such a cute idea.
I feel a strong ambivalence toward this show. It remains slightly drab, particularly for those with shorter attention spans, but it also features such fantasy elements in the everlasting yet mildly masochistic relationship.
Simultaneously, I hope Melissa and Andy will get together, yet want them to permanently cease communication. Ultimately, Love Letters offers an intriguing, yet not very exciting night at the theater.
Love Letters plays through Feb. 22 at Studio 3 in the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street and plays Thurs.-Sat. at 8 pm; Sun. at 2 pm. Ticket are $25 or 2 for $40. More information can be found online at CatcoisTheatre.org.