American playwright A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters is an epistolary play. Epistolary plays – plays based on the exchange of letters – reside in a small niche in the world of theatre. You may be familiar with plays such as 84 Charing Cross Road and Les liaisons dangereuses.
Using only dramatically read letters, Love Letters traces the complicated relationship between two people – Andrew (Andy) Makepeace Ladd III (the talented Pierre Brault) and Melissa Gardner (CBC broadcaster Lucy van Oldenbarneveld) – from age 7 to almost 60. Andy and Melissa are children of wealthy 1% American families. They meet in Grade 2 and begin a childish friendship, mainly by exchanging letters and cards, because their parents insist on it as polite behaviour.
But Andy soon discovers that he really enjoys writing. Melissa, on the other hand, prefers phone and face-to-face conversations. As they get older, their friendship deepens and they exchange confidences. These morph into teenage angst and fumbling romantic impulses. However, their families’ expectations and their very different personalities keep them apart. Or rather, they keep them on two separate tracks, sometimes close, sometimes diverging, but never merging. We see how Andy and Melissa grow up and settle into the adult behaviours expected of them. Yet their mutual love continues to shine through.
Gurney’s writing is funny and astute. The opening night audience enjoyed numerous humorous lines. For example, when Melissa writes about her second newborn, she says “Number 2 is a perfect way to describe this baby.” There were also some beautiful turns of phrase. Andy, who becomes a lawyer, says “Law is the letters civilization writes to itself.” In one letter he asserts “I’m giving this piece of myself to you.”
As Valentine’s Day approaches, Love Letters is a good play for thoughtful lovers to see. Then decide whether Andy is right when he says, “Letters are our strength and our salvation”.