'Love Letters': Little action, but gut-wrenching drama


I'm a month shy of my 42nd birthday and I still feel giddy when I find a letter in the mailbox addressed to little old me. Call if you must, but write me if you want to make my day.

When it comes to communicating with each other, Melissa Gardner and Andy Ladd felt the same way, for the saga of their compelling friendship scorched the U.S. mails for some 50 years. That's the premise of "Love Letters," the A. R. Gurney play in production at the St. Martin's Community Theatre in Severna Park.

"Love Letters" is the antithesis of an action play. There are two actors, two desks pushed side-by-side, and 50 years worth of monologues excerpted from the imaginary correspondence shared by an insecure, upwardly mobile Yale man who becomes a U.S. senator, and a flighty artist who learns tragically that money can't buy her happiness, security, enlightenment, sobriety or a good marriage.

If you are a "plot and action" theatergoer, "Love Letters" could drive you a little nuts, for this is reader's theater as much as anything else -- drama from the waist up, as the players never move from behind their desks.

But if you are willing to be drawn in to their world of love, achievement, heartbreak and loss, you can have a pretty gut-wrenching night at the theater. I had to work a little bit, but I confess they got to me.

Both players are quite fine. A. C. Boughton comes off nicely as Andy, imbuing his character with healthy doses of adolescent angst, youthful idealism, ambition, political wishy-washiness, middle-aged lust and, finally, the compassionate wisdom of a man who has indeed loved a great love, even if that love never took conventional form.

If anything, Boughton is occasionally overshadowed by Karen Lambert's Melissa, a beautifully read portrayal of a creative, headstrong woman who loves neither wisely nor well for reasons that are achingly all too human.

Director Estelle Gardiner has paced her actors well. The age differential was distracting at the outset -- the characters are supposed to be contemporaries, yet Mr. Boughton is a good deal older than his co-star -- but I soon accepted the disparity and moved on from there.

A worthwhile evening at the theater, then, though you may want to leave your action-seeking spouse or 8-year-old at home.

"Love Letters" plays at the St. Martin's Parish Hall, 375 Benfield Road, tomorrow and Sunday and Oct. 7 and 8 at 8 p.m.

Proceeds are being shared with Our House, a home in Arnold for three people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome who are being allowed to live out their lives with dignity in a supportive environment.

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