REVIEWS: LOVE LETTERS and WINDOWS OF LUCIDITY
Love Letters is arguably A.R. Gurney's best-known play, performed constantly all over the world since its premiere fifteen years ago. It is at once beautifully simple and frighteningly complex: two actors sit, with scripts on music stands, and read aloud the titular letters that Andy Ladd and Melissa Gardner write to each other over the course of their lives. Gurney's characters are wonderfully deep, and portraying their lives, from childhood to old age, is a true challenge for any actor. Fortunately, as directed by Phil Geoffery Bond with a rotating cast at the Duplex's Storefront cabaret theatre, Andy and Melissa have come vividly to life when played by Lonny Price and Randy Graff, Stephen Bogardus and Allison Fraser, and perhaps most in tune with Gurney's vision, by Bond himself and Amanda Green. This past Monday, renowned movie critic Rex Reed and legendary cabaret star Mary Cleere Haran took on the roles, but were not up to the level of the previous pairs.
When he began to read Andy's first letter, Reed at once distracted the audience from the words by pantomiming writing in his script and speaking very slowly, as though he were writing the letter as he read it. He returned to this device several times during the reading, dragging down the pace of the play and losing the timing on several jokes. There were several moments when his very slow speech served the piece well (the generic annual Christmas letter was particularly funny as delivered by Reed), but on the whole his performance was slow and overacted rather than simply performed.
Haran fared somewhat better, finding and savoring moments in Melissa's letters that other actresses might miss- like a young Melissa mentioning that she feels like her cat's tail, connected to but separate from the rest of the animal. Still, like Reed's, Haran's performance was mostly slow and overacted, improving in Act Two, but Melissa never fully developed into a three-dimensional person.
We should all hope that Love Letters will return to the Duplex again, if only for the continued chance to see how different actors tackle these challenging roles. The Storefront, an intimate and elegant room, is the perfect space to perform this intimate play about people from elegant backgrounds, and Phil Geoffrey Bond's direction is very strong. With the right actors, the production is wonderful, and should not be missed.
WINDOWS OF LUCIDITY
A new musical written and performed by Douglas C. Williams and Michael Ryan ended its world premiere run on Tuesday evening. Windows of Lucidity is, indeed, the story of its own creation, and in that it is rather original. The plot, such as it is, follows a philosophising bartender (Williams) as he decides to write a play, if only to do something as opposed to the nothing he has been doing. In order to write the Truth, however, he must defeat his own neuroses (played by Ryan, who also accompanies on piano) and learn to listen to his Little Voice.
The goal of the play is certainly admirable, and the heart of the story could speak to anyone who has faced insecurities, but the execution of the play comes off as jokey and self-indulgent. The banter between the two men feels forced, and the final revelations seem anti-climactic after so much build-up. Williams and Ryan would have a much stronger musical if they cut away some of the extraneous devices and focused more on the heart of their story.
Fortunately, Williams and Ryan already seem to know that brevity is the soul of wit: including Ryan's seven songs, the show clocks in at only fifty minutes. If the author/actors can revise the show to say more about the theory of creating art, they will have a truly innovative one-act musical.