Sunday, August 12, 2012

Love Letters

Sentimental Journey

Because each performance of Love Letters has a different cast, Alec Clayton and I decided to go on three different days and then share our reviews on one another's theatre blogs. Here’s my take; if you haven’t read it yet, Alec’s is below.

If you have read Alec’s review you know the basics. Yes, it is a “play” consisting of two people sitting side by side, reading 50 years worth of letters to one another recounting lives that are largely out of sync. And yes, it is often done, as it is at Lakewood, with revolving casts.

If you are lucky enough to see it with the right actors, (and I was,) you understand immediately why; it is hard to imagine a cast being able to make it through the powerful and heart-rending Act II more than once in a year, much less several times a week.

At its core, Love Letters is a long and winding road; a lifetime journey of two people who meet at age seven, and through letters and a few rare personal contacts, follow each others lives as they unfold in very different directions. Yet through it all, they remain bound by a thin, unbreakably strong, spider-silk strand of affection.  

Act one is laugh-out-loud funny; from the giddy silliness of two seven-year-olds passing notes through the awkward and exaggerated tweens and teens, and on into the confusing absurdity of early adulthood. The actors imperceptibly age, through voice and mannerisms, as they grow into their lives.

Act two takes us through their successes, challenges, and for one, desultory destruction, and by its end, leaves us emotionally drained and decidedly tear stained.
Granted, with different casts, each performance will be different, and some may be stronger, better, or differently skewed. I saw two, and they were, admittedly, much different. Clearly, there’s no way to review all nine, but I will say this about one pair. 

I’m one of those people who abhor frivolous standing ovations, but Sunday’s performance, a complete tour de force by the outstanding team of Micheal O’Hara and Sharry O’Hare, was one of those rare times it was truly earned. It made me glad to be a reviewer, proud to know the actors, and grateful to have experienced those two hours of my life.

In short, done well, this is powerful theatre, the true measure of what great theatre can be, a journey that will make you laugh, and will make you cry.

Alec is right. Go see it. It’s an experience worth having.

Alec Clayton’s review
Friday, Aug. 10th 2012
Jen Davis and Alex Smith

There are many degrees and types of intimacy, but it is rare to have experienced a theatrical performance as intimate as Love Letters at Lakewood Playhouse. And what a sweet and original concept: nine performances of the same two-person play, each performance by a different couple who, off stage, are actual lovers, spouses or partners.

Since it opened off-Broadway in 1989 Love Letters has traditionally been performed with revolving casts. The unique twist to the Lakewood Playhouse presentation is that each of the performing couples met and fell in love while working in theater.

 As written by A.R. Gurney, the play is not to be “performed.” The couple is introduced. They sit side-by-side in chairs and read a series of letters to each other. Theater-goers will notice that no one is credited as director or costume designer. The only thing theatrical about the show is the lights come up at the beginning of each act and go down at the end. Otherwise it is just two characters reading letters written to one another over a lifetime. That sounds boring, but it is anything but. It is fascinating. It is one of the most personally engaging bits of theater I have ever witnessed.

The characters are Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner, a boy and girl who met in the second grade and whose first correspondences were notes passed back and forth in school, and who continued a relationship, mostly through letters, throughout their lives. They grow up. They experience the pangs and hopes and disappointments of puberty and adolescence and young adulthood. They go their separate ways, both physically and psychologically, yet keep getting back together mostly through the letters as they build careers and family and grow into middle age and old age.

Alex Smith and Jen Davis were Andrew and Melissa opening night. Smith is a South Puget Sound favorite who has performed in a slew of plays in
Olympia and Tacoma, most recently turning in an amazing performance in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Lakewood Playhouse. He has endeared himself to audiences primarily through wild physical comedy. In this show he is much more restrained physically, but his facial expressions offer a look into the soul of Andrew Ladd. Davis is not as well known to me. This was my first time to see her on stage, and according to a curtain speech by Playhouse Artistic Director John Munn it may be the last for quite some time, because she is leaving the area soon for California. I’m glad I got to see her in this show. She absolutely becomes Melissa Gardner, frustrated artist and lover.

The amazing thing about Smith and Davis’s performance is that they each seem to thoroughly inhabit their characters yet remain most definitely themselves. Smith has a favorite hat that he wears everywhere he goes, and he wears it throughout this performance as if saying, “Look folks, no costume. It’s just me.” Having gotten to know him a little over the past year I felt like I was watching Alex Smith be himself, opening his own heart for the world to see inside and revealing that Andrew was as real as Alex. That is what we call acting. I suspect everyone in the audience opening night felt the same way — privileged to be invited into their lives. I’m sure the experience will be much the same at each succeeding performance as audiences are given a chance to see many of their favorite actors perform this show, so this is one show that would be good to see more than once because it promises to be different each time.

The actors are:

Friday, Aug. 10 -  Jen Davis and Alex Smith
Saturday, Aug. 11 - Jen Ankrum and Blake York
Sunday, Aug. 12 - Sharry O’Hare and Micheal O’Hara
 Friday, Aug. 17 - Stephanie and Jarod Nace
Saturday, Aug. 18 - Terri and Robert Puett
Sunday, Aug.19 - Aya and Randy Clark
Friday, Aug. 24 – Samantha Camp and Bruce Story
Saturday, Aug. 25 – Rachel and Alan Wilkie
Sunday, Aug. 26 – Bethany Bevier and Niclas R. Olson

Love Letters is sweet, poignant, funny and revealing. I not only recommend it, I recommend seeing as many performances as possible.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 26

WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: All tickets $15
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

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