Love. Need I say more? All the hurting and beauty that is poured out of our hearts into that one-syllable word is a piece of literature unto itself. We cannot begin to encompass the nature of love; we cannot begin to explain it; we cannot begin to embrace it within one lifetime. Therefore, it helps a little if we can express it through the lives of others – and that is what makes Love Letters such an honest, terrifyingly eloquent tribute.
Love Letters, a play by A. R. Gurney, tells the lifelong story of a couple named Melissa and Andy, who recount through their correspondence with one another the course of their relationship – from the time they were children through their high school years; then into adulthood; and, finally, until death. The pair never marries, but rather, as the story goes on, they seem to reach a point of marital potential before slipping away into their own separate lives, with one of them succeeding on all accounts while the other slowly withers away. The play was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize back when it premiered in 1988, and has since then attracted the attention of several big-named stars, including James Earl Jones, Kathleen Turner, Jason Robards, and Elizabeth Taylor.
I witnessed this play Saturday, when it was presented by the Pawling Theatre Company at the John Kane House in the Village of Pawling. It was a quiet affair; with only a dozen or so audience members squeezed into the parlor of that beautiful old home, it was intimate, just the kind of atmosphere that best suited the material. The showing I was present for was the second of four performances – each of which will feature a local couple cast as the play’s two characters.
This past Saturday, it was Susan and Jeremy Stone, following a Friday night performance by Steve and Debbie Cash. While I cannot account for the Cashes’ performances, I am able to tell you that Mr. and Mrs. Stone were absolutely wonderful, giving their roles substance and profundity – not simply because they are clearly a loving couple, but because of their individual talents and personalities, which corresponded nicely to those of their characters.
Mr. Stone has a particularly baritone, straightforward voice; he is not theatrical, but authentic, and thus fit beautifully into the role of Andy – a straightforward, earnest man who is determined to live the good life, but also confused and held back by his unrealized love for Melissa. And as for the female counterpart, Mrs. Stone did an admirably vivid job playing an even more deeply confused and lost woman, searching for an answer from the tentative love of her life, Andy. Mrs. Stone demonstrated a clear dramatic talent; not only does she know how to read lines with emphasis, but she also knows how to embody a part just as well. Each delivered their performance with subtlety and true talent, and as they realized so completely their respective parts, they also realized the basic love that existed between these two characters. The result was movingly authentic, for no matter how different Andy and Melissa were, they were clearly and always meant for each other.
Needless to say it was a beautiful play. A striking piece of work, it manages with tremendous skill to capture the essence of a relationship through recited “love” letters over the course of fifty years, a remarkable dramatic feat which I see as one of the best plays I’ve ever encountered. It is touching, real, and almost nostalgically impossible by today’s standards: as a high school student, I was asked by a member of the audience if this kind of drama or relationship reflected at all the times I am going through. And I had to say no… things haven’t nearly as much potential for romance as they once did, and even while Andy and Melissa were left incomplete, they still had more than I fear most people of my generation will ever encounter. Love is so special, but it requires simplicity; maybe the bigger tragedy of this play is the fact that Melissa and Andy were of the first generation to grow away from that, to face life in all its unnecessary complexity. But if the end of love begins with this play, then at least we may celebrate it through the grandness of this tributary glance. Love Letters is indeed a masterwork, a lovely little footnote on the tragedy of love.
For those of you who wish to see another showing, you’re in luck – this Friday and Saturday, February 10th and 11th, the Pawling Theatre Company will be giving two more performances at Magnolia’s Café in Patterson – the first with Julie Holland and Jeremy Wolff, and the second with Aaron and Amy Emke. Each performance begins at 7:00 PM, and if they are anything like this one, I can guarantee – you will be greatly impressed.