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BWW Review: LOVE LETTERS at JCC Centerstage Theatre (via Rochester Fringe Festival)


BWW Review: LOVE LETTERS at JCC Centerstage Theatre (via Rochester Fringe Festival)

As part of the annual Fringe Festival, Rochester's Jewish Community Center presented "Love Letters", the popular 1988 two-person play by A. R. Gurney that follows two friends throughout the course of their lives told solely through the reading of letters that they wrote each other over the years. The show, known for its simplicity and emotional breadth, provides a quiet and sensitive alternative to other programming at the Fringe Festival, which is known as a home for alternative and avant-garde performing arts.

"Love Letters" is the story of lifelong pen pals Melissa Gardner (Jennifer Galvez Caton) and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III (J. Simmons), who diligently wrote each other letters from their earliest elementary school days until their waning years. With the relationship at various points taking the form of platonic friendship, flirty courtship, and impassioned lover, Melissa and Andrew's lives are told through the letters they wrote to each other over the course of 50+ years, through boarding school, college, career advancement, marriage, children, addiction, divorce, and every other life milestone imaginable. Their lives travel in vastly different directions; Andrew attends an Ivy League college, joins the Navy, becomes an accomplished lawyer and eventually enters politics, while Melissa experiences divorce, custody battles, and a fizzling art career. Their letters to each other capture all the emotions experienced by the characters at these different stages of their lives, and shows us a bond that never waned regardless of distance or life status.

Apart from mapping the intricacies of two lives that went in drastically different directions, or exploring the shared affection of pen pals Ladd and Gardener, the magic of "Love Letters" is that it beautifully captures the power of the written word; if you'll pardon the cheesy play on words, it's truly a love letter to love letters. "Love Letters" became a Pulitzer finalist because it captures the highs and lows, joy and sorrow of Ladd and Gardener using only the writing and voices of two actors. Without elaborate sets or supporting characters to lean on Simmons and Galvez Caton take the audience on a journey of 50+ years, at various points embodying their awkward childhood selves, their energetic college years, and adults that look by on years gone by with wisdom and sorrow. They are emotional, present, and captivating performers with palpable chemistry.

"Love Letters" was presented through the Rochester Fringe Festival and showcased at the JCC Centerstage Theatre.

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From This Author Colin Fleming-Stumpf