Just to illustrate how clueless I am: I walked into the Brooks Atkinson to see Love Letters and saw the pictures of actors like Carol Burnett, Martin Sheen, and Angelica Huston over the box office window. “Wow!”, I thought to myself. “This show sure has a star-studded cast! I hope I don’t get any understudies!” As everyone besides me knows, though, Love Letters is actually a two-character piece, and the other actors will be performing in the weeks and months to come. To be fair I think I knew that at one point. Anyway, if Sherlock Holmes can forget that the earth revolves around the sun, I can forget how many characters are in a play I’m going to see. Though It seems like a stretch to even call it a play: the entire performance consists of Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy seated at a table, reading fifty years’ worth of love letters.
Let me just say upfront that the whole thing didn’t feel like it should have been on Broadway. An evening at Symphony Space, yes. But I do not think I’d be happy if I had paid full Broadway prices to watch two people read out a story. That doesn’t mean I disliked the show, though. Actually I found Andy and Melissa’s love story to be warm, sad, funny, and ultimately very moving. Andy is a smart and ambitious working-class kid. Melissa is wealthy, defiant, and troubled. They meet as young children and fall for each other nearly from the start, though for various reasons (class differences, teenage hangups, other relationships) their love story is mostly conducted through letters.
Brian Dennehy does well — as usual — but his character is fairly stodgy. Mia Farrow as Melissa is really the star here. First of all, she’s incredibly funny. Melissa is frequently snarky towards Andrew, telling him when his letters are boring or threatening to moon him when he’s being a prig. Even better, Ms. Farrow has a wonderful fragility to her that fits Melissa’s damaged persona beautifully: her occasional breakdowns make perfect sense.
There were a few things about the story that frustrated me, though. Andy and Melissa really do just keep missing each other in terms of romantic connections. Feels a bit forced. It just seems like some of the characters’ problems are tossed in for plot reasons rather than sprouting organically. I had this kind of problem with another Gurney play currently running here, The Wayside Motor Inn. Still though, I found myself thinking about Andy and Melissa’s story for days after I saw Love Letters, and that’s always a nice thing.
Still though, I’m not sure it needed to be a play. You’d get most of the same joys from an audiobook or podcast production. Let’s hope they produce one someday! (If they haven’t already. Again, I’m fairly clueless sometimes.)
My Grade: B
Running Time: 90 minutes
Ticket price: $43 on TDF
Worth it: Yes
Standing Ovation Watch: Yes