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Review: LOVE LETTERS at 710 MAIN THEATRE

MACGRAW AND O'NEAL MASTER THE ART OF "LOVE LETTERS"


Before cell phones, texts, tweets or facebook messages there existed that lost art of writing letters. Yes, I said art. Putting words to paper in complete sentences that share emotions as well as news of the day can be exciting to write and even more thrilling to receive through the good old US Postal Service.

A.R. Gurney's 1989 play LOVE LETTERS allows us to eavesdrop on a very private relationship between Andrew and Melissa. This two person play starts as a series of replies to a party invitation being given for the young Melissa, then following the two through their volley of missives. The staging and crux of the production is that both characters sit side by side at a long table reading their letters aloud to the the other, face forward, yet never interacting directly with each other. That's not to say there isn't a great connection established. Many storied couples have played these roles, often as single night benefit readings of some kind, but luckily this outing is based on the most recent Broadway revival where extended rehearsal time was much more evident than a thrown together one nighter. Our duo is none other than one of silver screen's most iconic couples, Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal, of the 1970's film "Love Story" fame.


What at first might seem like stunt casting, soon reveals itself to be a dynamic bond between these two actors that may have started in that Hollywood epic, but now is thoroughly grounded in the intimate confines of 710 Main Theatre. This play is perfect for the stage of the old Studio Arena, where I remember seeing a production of LOVE LETTERS many years ago with William Daniels and Bonnie Bartlett. The actors have noted in interviews that they look forward to an intimate venue like this after playing some much larger theatres. The script by Buffalo's own A.R. Gurney finds that perfect balance between comedy and drama that makes these two lives as human as can be, intimately detailing private moments along side the more mundane wishes in Christmas and Birthday cards.


Upon their entrance applause, the audience was primed to fall in love with these actors all over again. Both MacGraw and O'Neal have aged gracefully, and it was like seeing your high school friends again for the first time at your 50th High School Reunion- physical appearances may change, but their inner core and beauty is still there. From the beginning of this 90 minute play, we meet two young children who convey all of their experiences by letter. MacGraw, as Melissa, lets us know right off the bat that she can be feisty and prone to age appropriate exasperation and foul language. Ms. MacGraw can be soft spoken, which makes you focus all the more on what she has to say. Comfortably seated, she gives a master class in the gamut of emotions that can be conveyed simply by reading, shifting her posture, or tapping her feet. In her we learn that Melissa is born to a privileged life, but that money can't buy happiness. Meanwhile Andrew's political rise to fame leaves him emotionally wanting more.

O'Neal, as Andrew, shows how he can be prone to hyperbole and is much more interested in letter writing than Melissa. In some of his more lengthy letters ( which the younger Melissa finds boring), O'Neal comes across as a grounded regular Joe who outwardly makes good in life, but also has his demons. O'Neal's performance was more matter of fact and practical than Ms. MacGraw's. He shone is his comic long letters outlining the every day rosters of his College rowing team and later in life writing the dreaded Family Christmas letter, upon the insistence of his wife Jane. Full of humor, the heart of this play occurs as the two deal with their real life problems of growing old. O'Neal remains much more upright in his posture, which makes his few slumps and removing off his reading glasses for contemplation all the more powerful. Ms. MacGraw is heartbreaking in her reveal of where her life's path has taken her. Never maudlin, her agony and desperation was palpable, and you deeply felt for her character , stuck in living life through letters and yearning for more human contact. Her unsettled life was in great contrast to Andrew's, as evidenced by her constant moving around the world in the never ending search of the perfect life.


Deftly directed by Gregory Mosher, the subtleties are truly in the timing and pacing, as there is no movement on stage aside from the body language of the actors. Mosher's placement of that uncomfortable pregnant pause speaks volumes of how the two feel in between more heated discourses. College romances, marital discord, psychological break downs and coping with deaths in the family are all handled swiftly, allowing us to overhear the private life stories of Andrew and Melissa. The dramatic final moments allow a brief glimpse of physical interaction between the two that makes this brilliant night of the theatre something unforgettable.

LOVE LETTERS plays at 710 Main Theatre May 11-22,2016. For tickets ($47 and $52), call 1-800-745-3000, go to ticketmaser.com or Sheas Box Office. Performances are Wed and Thurs at 7:30, Thurs March 12 at 1pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, Sunday at 2 pm and Tues May 17 at 7:30pm
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From This Author - Michael Rabice

Michael Rabice has over  40 years of experience attending plays, musicals and opera all over the world. He is a frequent performer in opera and has appeared with the Glimmerglass Opera, Artpark... (read more about this author)


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