Review: Love Letters

2014-09-15 18.51.38Just 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.

2014-09-15 18.57.34There 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

Review: The Wayside Motor Inn

2014-08-19 19.33.09

I don’t think I’ve seen or read very many of A.R. Gurney’s plays. So I didn’t know quite what to expect with The Wayside Motor Inn, currently onstage at the Signature. Let me just say that I flipping love the Signature because of their $25 tickets and their fantastic space. I mean, come on! They have a huge bar and a great bookstore plus several theaters! I didn’t order a beer last night, but I wouldn’t have felt guilty even if I did, because the ticket was so affordable. Not to mention the terrific shows they often put on over there. This year A.R. Gurney is one of the playwrights in residence at the Signature, and this play is a pretty good indication of why people like him so much.

It takes place in a bland hotel room in Boston in 1978. Ten characters walk in and spend the next few hours talking, arguing, trying to please each other, getting feelings hurt, forgiving each other. You get the picture. What makes The Wayside Motor Inn especially interesting is that these ten people are actually in five different rooms. Essentially, this show is five plays rolled into one, all taking place simultaneously. Many of the characters are onstage throughout: salesman Ray, for example, eats his dinner in front of the TV while a pair of college students try to connect physically, a divorcing couple split up their belongings, or a father and son clash about Harvard.

To be honest I’m a total sucker for this kind of theatrical trick. (“They’re in the same space, except they’re not! Theater is so cool!”) But The Wayside Motor Inn is also a very easy play to like. The stories are accessible, since they deal with fairly universal themes. You get several stages of couplehood: young love, divorce, old age. And a few parent-child conflicts as well. I wouldn’t say all the stories are equally interesting: college students Phil and Sally, for example, are a bit unsatisfying as characters and never all that dramatically compelling. And I could have done without the pat endings to some of the stories. But I did really like the older couple’s struggles (wonderfully portrayed by Jon DeVries and Lizbeth Mackay). And Jenn Lyon as the loopy waitress Sharon was just hilarious.

In any case, this very strong production definitely has me interested to see the remaining productions in A.R. Gurney’s residency. And I couldn’t stop myself from buying a ticket to another one of the Signature’s shows next week. (For just $25!) You just keep doing what you’re doing, Siggy.

My Grade: B
Running Time: 2 hours
Ticket price: $32 ($25 plus fees)
Worth it: Yes
Standing Ovation Watch: I can’t remember! But I don’t think so.