In an age of instant messaging, digital communication and fleeting relationships, the revival of Love Letters, a play about an enduring friendship recorded with pen and paper, is still capturing hearts on Broadway.
A.R. Gurney’s play about two friends who shared their thoughts, emotions and lives by writing letters to each other for five decades debuted on Broadway in 1989, before the advent of cellphones and text messages.
But critics said a noteworthy revival that opened on Thursday night is as touching as it was more than two decades ago.
“After all these years, Gurney’s bittersweet love letter to an oddly matched couple who maintain an epistolary friendship for half a century can still tug at the old heartstrings,” said Variety, the trade magazine.
The Hollywood Reporter concurred, calling it “a rare work whose emotional richness requires no embellishment in order to become a full-bodied theatrical experience.”
Dual Tony winner Brian Dennehy (Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Death of a Salesman) and Mia Farrow, best known for films such as Hannah and Her Sisters and The Great Gatsby, play the two well-heeled friends whose lives, although apart, remained intertwined.
They are the first in a rotating cast of actors to appear in the limited-engagement play. Carol Burnett, Alan Alda, Candice Bergen, Stacy Keach, Diana Rigg, Angelica Huston and Martin Sheen will take on the roles in later performances.
Dennehy, 76, is Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, a conservative, upright, studious boy whose Ivy League education leads him to a career in law and politics.
Farrow, 69, plays Melissa Gardner, a wealthy, rebellious, free spirit, whose parents divorce when she is young. While Andy grows up in a tight-knit family, which she envies, Melissa is raised by an alcoholic mother and shuffled off to camp and her grandmother’s house during school holidays.
The two actors are seated side-by-side at a table facing the audience on a stark stage as they read the love letters that began when they were seven-year-old classmates.
Through a correspondence that starts with birthday party invitations, thank you notes and valentines, they bolster each other through lonely stints at boarding school, challenges in college, failed romances, accomplishments and disappointments, marriages and children with other people, and their own brief affair.
“The performances of both actors deepen and evolve as their characters do,” said the New York Times. But the newspaper reserved special praise for Farrow.
“Ms Farrow gives a remarkable performance, so vividly felt and fully realised that you forget that she is merely reciting notes and letters,” it said. “Her portrayal cast a heartbreaking spell as Melissa’s fragility slowly emerges.”
The New York Daily News said that with less able actors, Love Letters could have ended up a pity party. “With this duo, though, the play emerges as sweet, elegant and touching, as two lives come together in vibrant focus. The evening also makes the case for the value of letter writing.”