BWW Review: LOVE LETTERS at Des Moines Playhouse: A Welcome Journey
Recently, the term intermission has taken on a new meaning in the theatre community. While we usually use it as a term to signify a break in a show, we have recently modified it to a break in theatre productions due to COVID19. While we may not be able to gather as a theatre community to sit in a theatre for a show, some theatres are getting creative in how they present shows this summer. One of them is Des Moines Playhouse. I attended a dress rehearsal of their socially distanced production of "Love Letters," which opens on June 12.
"Love Letters" by A.R. Gurney is a journey through the lives of Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III. The play starts with kids writing letters about a birthday party. As it continues, we see them grow up and face the trials of high school, college, as well as adulthood. While some events separate them at times, they seem to always come back together as friends. When do these letters stop? That you will have to go to the show to find out.
The first question that came to my mind was, how do you create a show people can see as we face this current epidemic plaguing the county. The Playhouse has done a fantastic job of finding a creative way to make this possible cues from different forms of entertainment. First, like a drive-in movie, you will attend the show in your vehicle and listen by tuning the radio station given to you at the show. The second cue they take is from the classic Greek amphitheater. The parking lot has been repainted to allow parking to curve around the stage. Instead of raising the audience to look down on the show, they have raised the stage so everyone can see the show.
One of the exciting things about this show is that it features a rotating roster of actors. Each performance will feature either Gina Gedler and Steve Berry, Kellie Kramer and Michael Davenport, or Dani Boal and Bobby Nalean. The dress rehearsal I attended featured Gina Gedler and Steve Berry. I appreciated that while they were separated 6 feet apart, they found exciting ways to connect as actors. They were able to do this in how they looked at the other person when they were writing letters to the pace and tone they delivered each of their letters. Another part of their performances that I appreciated was how they portrayed the age of their characters. By being seated during the performance, there wasn't much physicality to the performance. So this was done through posture and vocal inflection, allowing the actors to both give very nuanced performances.
Having attended Playhouse productions in the past, I've become accustomed to the spectacle they can bring to a show, from the sets to sounds, to lights. It's one of the great parts of attending a show at the Playhouse. With this show, they had a more minimalistic approach, which I found to be thrilling. The set consisted of a backdrop that looked like the one letter from each of the characters on stage. It is decorated with two desks and chairs. Having minimal set allowed the audience to focus on the story's text being told between these two characters. There were a few light and sound cues, but they never took focus from the story being told.
If you are looking for an evening out of the house, then "Love Letters" with Des Moines Playhouse is the perfect excursion for you. From the setting to the cast, to the tech, each aspect makes this an evening well worth paying what you can, which is the cost of admission. Make sure to reserve a spot in advance as places are filling up quickly. Most evenings currently have a waiting list. The best availability currently is for the June 20 and June 26 performances. To find out more about "Love Letters" or Des Moines Playhouse, visit https://www.dmplayhouse.com/events/live-theatre-drive-in/.
Review by DC Felton
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