Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA
through October 2, 2016
by Jarice Hanson
When I heard that two of my favorite actors, Mark H. Dold and Debra Jo Rupp, were performing “Love Letters,” I figured I had to see what these two gifted performers could literally, bring to the table. Upon entering the intimate St. Germain space, you see the proverbial table, two chippendale-style chairs, and an ornate rug. The décor reflects privilege and the moneyed class. The actors sit inches apart and read letters they have exchanged over a fifty-year relationship but never directly interact. Playwright A. R. Gurney’s directions to the actors encourage them to “listen” to each other rather than playing the action, but director Julianne Boyd knows these performers’ style well, and allows them to bring their individual strengths and physicality to the production.
|Photo by Elizabeth Nelson|
Dold, as Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, is the more animated performer. His face registers shifts in the relationship over time, while Rupp, as the troubled Melissa Gardner, vocally makes her point, but internalizes the character’s feelings until erupting with hand and arm gestures that signal the emotional explosion we know she’s repressing. The pacing of the actors’ speech and the time lapses between correspondences is palpable, and, with credit to Gurney, the carefully crafted words are still powerful.
Often, “Love Letters” is an inexpensive vehicle for theatres to get patrons into seats to see well-known actors who might have a personal relationship. While Rupp and Dold are friends, their relationship with the Barrington audience comes from the years of fine work they’ve individually brought to the stage. The performers do not disappoint, and provide more than a “relationship play.” They produce a cultural commentary on nostalgia, gender, class expectations, and loss.
As an audience member who has seen many productions of “Love Letters” and who has performed in it, I confess to a desire to dissect the performances and the script, and at the end of the show, I wondered if the audience could still be “wowed” by the manipulative nature of the beast. But then I overheard a less-jaded patron remark, “Well, I never saw that coming.” That’s when I was sure that in such capable hands, “Love Letters” can still pack a wallop.