While A.R. Gurney (who died last summer) had many successful plays among his 47 plays, Love Letters (1988) condenses his talent for laser-like wit into an amusing two character play for ninety minutes. The performance occurred on the second floor of Stissing House in Pine Plains with two accomplished actors, Brian Keeler and Peggity Price, under the able director of Joseph Capone, was nothing less than marvelous.
I spoke to a retired resident of Salisbury who has seen this play seven or eight times with a variety of notable actors (including Jason Robards and Collen Dewhurst, Swoosie Kurtz and Marsha Mason, George Grizzard and Julie Harris, Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw) and he thought that the version performed last night was definitely the best version.
One problem with a multitude of previous performances was the set. Two people infatuated with each other since first grade chronologically read their letters and postcards (often in stichomythic fashion) to each other over a period of fifty years. Yet tables were traditionally used. Director Capone had the actors read from high stool chairs, which allow the voices to be better carried. The effectiveness of the play, its adroit and mischievous humor without props depends upon voice, its reach and gradient subtleties. Success of the performance rests upon intonation of voice. Keeler and Price delivered with impeccable diction and accomplished pacing as wrung the humor, dry, ironic, or outlandish.
The first act covers childhood and young adulthood up to thirty; the second act the next twenty years when they belatedly consummate their lifelong attraction to each other. The ups (mostly his) and downs (mostly hers) of their careers are recounted with panoply of passions and moods. He is staid, circumspect, and ambitious while she is eccentric, a furious demolisher of cliché, an artist (painter, photographer, sculptor).
Admission to the play was free; the purpose of the play was to attract donors for the Memorial Hall project in Pine Plains. Serious construction and reconstruction will begin this summer. The purpose of the Project is to revitalize Pine Plains as a cultural center that will attract tourists from the county as well as the Big City. The building, built in 1915, will feature a remodeled wide, open auditorium space for the arts: dance, film, theatre, and music performances. Memorial Hall promises to be a dynamic center for the arts in the backyard of Dutchess County. To find out more about the Memorial Hall Project visit http://ppmemorialhall.org.