SALT LAKE CITY – Love Letters has become a tradition at the SLCC Grand Theatre (and in many other places) around Valentine’s Day. It’s a story of two friends/lovers and the letters they have exchanged throughout their lives. The script is fascinating, and I would have loved to read it, at home in my pajamas. Sadly, though, I sat through two hours of someone else reading it to me. I left the “play” perplexed as to why this was ever put on a stage. Perhaps because not everyone reads; it’s possible that this play was produced for those non-readers, who would only hear the story if they could pay $25 and bring a date. Maybe?
I knew what I was getting in to. I knew that Holly Mullen and Ted Wilson would be reading letters back and forth for the entire play. So why was I so bored? Really, I was falling asleep. When intermission arrived, there was no announcement that we’d be breaking for ten minutes, and the audience looked around at each other, confused. “Is it over?” we asked. We wandered out into the foyer, remembering that the story line was meant to last ’til the two characters were older, and realized there was more show to go. On the way back into the theater, I heard someone say to their friends, “Will you be able to sit through the next 25 years?”
The production was, at best, mildly entertaining. The two actors sat at separate desks, far apart on a large stage. They never looked at each other, paused in awkward places, emphasized random words… I don’t know whether to blame the director or the actors. So about half-way through, I decided I want to write specifically about the text since A.J. Gurney has given us a genuine glimpse into relationships. From second grade to middle-age, the characters of Andy and Melissa experience the range of every possible emotion. While young, Melissa was obviously fond of Andy, but still felt contempt for him, avoiding him, playing the games we’ve all played when we “like” someone. Gurney cleverly paced the letters; I especially liked when one character would write over and over as their partner was apparently ignoring them. I was impressed that I could get to know a character simply from the words he/she had written in a letter.
Love Letters shows the power of the written word. Andy says that a phone call is over and dead the minute you hang up the receiver, and email is non-commital in a way, because you keep a copy of it for yourself. But letters are true, personal, genuine; you write with your own hand, put a piece of your heart into an envelope and send it off. When you receive a letter, you can read it and keep it as long as you want; and when you destroy it, it is forever gone. Gurney taught me the impact of a letter. Even Melissa, as often as she said she hated writing, always wrote back to Andy.
SLCC’s production was a one night only event, but you’re bound to see Love Letters announced again. I can’t predict what nuances a cast or director might add to this play, and I can’t recommend whether you should give it a shot. But I would encourage you, if you’re a reader, to experience this insightful story. Despite my lethargic response to the overall experience at SLCC, I found myself emotional as the play came to a close. The characters experience a lot together, and their story ends tragically. I cried as Andy slowly read his final letter. I attribute this reaction to the writer, who’s talented words can ultimately overcome the dullness of the “show.”