Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Fred's recent review of Sex with Strangers
On a minimalist set designed by Frank J. Alberino, Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow sit at a table with scripts in front of them and they go back and forth reading letters the characters have written to each other. Gurney's play spans the lives of Andrew and Melissa, from when they met as children right up through their adulthood. And while the structure of the show could make it static, both the content of the letters and the strong personalities the actors bring to their roles help make Love Letters consistently interesting, to the point where one hangs on nearly every word.
The last time I saw Brian Dennehy onstage was his shattering, Tony Award winning performance in Death of a Salesman. Sporting a white beard, Dennehy brings an unexpected warmth and charming demeanor to his character, which wins the audience over immediately. His portrayal of Andrew is pretty indelible and he makes the transition in the letters from early childhood to middle-aged adulthood smoothly.
Looking fantastic, Mia Farrow endows Melissa with vulnerability, humor, and an amazing transparency of spirit. Indeed, from the start of the play right through to the end, this actress truly wears her heart on her sleeve as she reads the letters. She is able to easily make the arc from a silly little girl to a somewhat unsatisfied woman. Not to give too much of the play away to those who are new to this work, Melissa's journey hits more than a few bumps along the way and Farrow proves to be very moving right up to the bittersweet conclusion. Perhaps because she has a somewhat showier role than her costar, Farrow makes a slightly stronger impression than Dennehy, though both give sterling performances.
Director Gordon Edelstein helps both of his actors bring their characters to life and he maximizes the power of the play. While the simple action of two actors reading letters onstage could be less than dramatic (after all, these characters never actually have a "scene" together), it's easy to get wrapped up in the lives these two people in this production. Love Letters can be recommended just for the opportunity to see the wonderful Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow onstage, but don't be surprised if the play doesn't break your heart a bit, as well.
Love Letters continues performances at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT through April 10, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.longwharf.org or call the box office at 203-787-4282.