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BWW Review: LOVE LETTERS Is GCT's Valentine to the Community

In his Sonnet 116, William Shakespeare wrote, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments" -- and impediments there are aplenty in A.R. Gurney's oft-performed LOVE LETTERS, which Director Anthony Isbell and a sterling, rotating cast of three couples has staged at the intimate Germantown Community Theatre. It's a St. Valentine's gift to the community, to be sure; and as soon as you enter the atmospheric lobby, pay heed to the scattering of deep-red rose petals and the framed quotations of letters from famous lovers -- everyone from John Keats to (even) Oscar Wilde to Johnny Cash. You'll be doing yourself a disservice if you don't, as they establish a real mood for what takes place on stage.

It's a known fact that LOVE LETTERS is a favorite acting exercise for celebrities (Ali McGraw and Ryan O'Neal, the iconic Seventies couple from LOVE STORY, recently performed it); and why not? Throughout the course of a half century, beginning with childhood invitations and "thank you" notes, a relationship builds between "Andrew" and "Melissa," the two characters; and throughout the ongoing exchange, a range of emotional reactions accompanies this "marriage of true minds" -- love, of course, and jealousy, humor, anger, resentment, helplessness, and so forth. In short, the two roles constitute a histrionic buffet for the couple on stage. We not only come to know -- and care -- for these two, but also the "other" characters interwoven throughout the correspondence. These include Melissa's much-married, alcoholic mother; an abusive stepfather; a loving (if boring) grandmother. Andy's duty-obsessed father (who disapproves of Melissa, though she appreciates him and admires what he stands for), wife "Jane," and sons also figure prominently.

Ultimately, though, Melissa and Andy are the primary focus. Melissa is the "free spirit" of the two, troubled throughout her life, prone to making mistake after mistake, and addicted to a variety of substances. Nonetheless, she is important to Andy in that she reminds him of emotional truths buried deep within him. He, on the other hand, imparts to her a sense of stability and encourages her to recognize and pursue her gifts as a creative artist. Time and again, they try physically to connect, only to "bump heads" or pass each other by. They expect to find in their physical proximity the close connection they have developed in their letters, only to be continually frustrated and disappointed. It's that "marriage of true minds" that's important. Interestingly, only once will one of these actors utter words that are not taken from correspondence, and that will occur toward the end of the play. When it does, it's emotionally rewarding.

All the actors and actresses involved in Mr. Isbell's intimate, rewarding production are talented individuals -- Greg Boller and Pamela Poletti, S.A. Weakley and Tamara Wright, and the very much married Chris and Lorraine Cotten. I would almost like to see each set of actors, as I am familiar with their individual, impressive talents; however, the performance I attended was enacted by the Cottens, an engaging, ingratiating couple. While watching them, I wondered at which points in the play their own emotional paths intersected with those of the fictional characters; did they "lose" or immerse themselves in their respective roles? I wondered, too, how these roles might have reinforced their relationship off stage. Whatever the case, they are in real harmony here -- performing, early on, with the spontaneity and innocence of youth, and, later, with the battered, enriched knowingness that maturity and experience bring. They are very affecting. Through, naturally, February 14.

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From This Author Joseph Baker

I received my Master of Arts Degree in English from Memphis State University and worked as an English instructor at Christian Brothers High School from (read more...)