CEDAR CITY — In 1990 Love Letters, by A.R. Gurney, was one of the finalists for The Pulitzer Prize drama category. On February 4 and 5, 2011, the Guild of the Utah Shakespeare Festival presented this play as a fundraiser for the Utah Shakespeare Festival.
This production follows two characters throughout their lives by the medium of reading letters written to each other. It begins with the general frivolity of childhood, progresses through the angst of teenage years, and follows with various phases of adulthood with more serious tones, including jealousy, some contempt, passion, and even sadness. There was a notable difference in the tone of this production from the beginning to the end. The beginning of the play was filled with humor, while the latter part dwelled on more serious aspects of the characters’ lives with only a few reminders of the frivolity of their childhood. I thought this marked change of tone did a good job of portraying changes, as well as consistency, that friendships and general relationships can undergo over time.
My appreciation of the entire production was aided by the director, David Ivers, who set the scene by introducing the play with a reading of the winning love letter from a contest that was held in the community. It was a touching reading of real love in the community that easily blended into the atmosphere of the caring interest of the characters for each other.
Appropriately, for the majority of the play, the actors in Love Letters both sat on the stage behind desks, reading these letters. A dressing screen and lamp stood back from the desks, centered as a visual separation between the two characters. In this production there was also a chaise lounge, briefly used by Melinda Pfundstein who played the female character, Melissa Gardner.
For a short section of the play, Brian Vaughn, who played the role of Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, emerged from behind the desk, sitting at the front of it. This small movement provided some emphasis for the lines being read at the time. Similarly, Melinda’s use of the chaise lounge and varying posture in her chair supplied some depth to her character’s attitude.
Considering the script is intended to be read like actual love letters from these desks, any actor would be required to read them with suitable timing and feeling to convey the emotions and change that the characters’ relationship undergoes throughout the play. The actors predominantly interacted with a natural flow and feeling. This ease was likely facilitated by the actors’ relationship with each other, as they are actual husband and wife. Similarly, pauses in their line delivery were timely and accentuated various phases of the characters’ relationship progression.
While the play began with a loving and, at some times, silly tone that easily prompted laughter from the crowd, I was left at the end of the production feeling somber and contemplative due to the progression of the portrayed relationship and storyline. Ultimately, attending this production of Love Letters was an appropriate and enjoyable way to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year. If future off-season shows presented by The Guild of the Utah Shakespeare Festival maintain the same quality of production that Love Letters did, I look forward to attending them.