Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 15, 2008

Love Letters

Panache Productions, Springfield
through November 16, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

A sold-out house honored local luminaries Barbara Bernard and Seymour Frankel in Panache Production of "Love Letters," one of celebrated playwright A. R. Gurney’s most popular plays.

In this deceptively simple two-character play, Melissa (Bernard) and Andy (Frankel) sit side by side in chairs miles apart re-reading their life-long correspondence that began with cryptic notes exchanged in the second grade. On the surface, when wasp meets wasp, nothing happens; but beneath a veneer of propriety, mixed and misunderstood emotions conflict with The Establishment, a society almost as restrictive as Edith Wharton described in "The Age of Innocence." Well-behaved Andy is fascinated by Melissa’s moth-like dance with the flame. She epitomizes the poor-little-rich-girl cliché whose fairy-tale comforts are profoundly damaged. Rebellion is her defense: she shocks Andy’s button-downed facade with outbursts of reality. He rebels during a brief naval career by falling in love with a Japanese woman. Through his family’s velvet- glove pressure, Andy gives up the relationship, returns home, and resumes climbing the tradition-approved ladder.

Frankel’s Andy is calm and proper. His measured reasoning befits a Yale-educated attorney. His affection for the outwardly flighty Melissa is as constant as hers for him. During their boarding school days, Andy writes of being told he’s a diamond in the rough: "I’ll write again as soon as I’m smoother." Melissa flashes back, "Don’t let them smooth you out. I love your rough spots." Bernard’s Melissa is a cauldron of conflicting emotions but throughout, her feistiness prevails. Together, Bernard and Frankel breathe life into Melissa’s and Andy’s letters. In Andy’s words, Melissa "was the heart of my life."

Panache’s 10th season opener has paired seven other area celebrities in one-night performances, with WHYN radio personalities Kim Zachary and Dan Williams on November 16th.