Not every show needs big sets, flashy costumes, and dazzling kick-lines to tell an impactful story. Some certainly do need those embellishments (can you imagine a minimalist Les Miserables?), but other shows thrive when stripped-down, leaning on the merits of the story and the storytellers. O’Connell & Company’s current production of “Love Letters” is just such a show, conveying humor, romance, and high-drama using nothing more than a couple desks and two actors.
. . .simple and touching. . .
Using a different pair of Buffalo performers for nearly every performance (the night I attended featured the eminently talented Gregory and Mary Coppola Gjurich), “Love Letters” is the story of lifelong pen pals Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, who diligently wrote each other letters from their earliest elementary school days until their waning years. With the relationship at various points taking the form of platonic friendship, flirty courtship, and impassioned lover, Melissa and Andrew’s lives are told through the letters they wrote to each other over the course of 50+ years, through boarding school, college, career advancement, marriage, children, addiction, divorce, and every other life milestone imaginable. Their lives travel in vastly different directions; Andrew attends an Ivy League college, joins the Navy, becomes an accomplished lawyer and eventually enters politics, while Melissa experiences divorce, custody battles, and a fizzling art career. Their letters to each other capture all the emotions experienced by the characters at these different stages of their lives, and shows us a bond that never waned regardless of distance or life status.
While it’s definitely a roller coaster of emotions, “Love Letters” is a refreshing treat for 21st century audience members because it shows us romance from a simpler time, before Tinder and texting, Snapchat and swiping left. A.R Gurney (who, fun fact, was a Buffalo native) tells a story that not only builds an affinity for the characters, but also the ancient art of letter-writing and all the nuance and depth that’s lost when letters are replaced with the cold efficiency of modern-day communications. This 1988 play, which was a Pulitzer finalist, was far ahead of its time, perhaps predicting that future generations would lose—or maybe never even know—the connection that can be forged through the simple act of writing a letter.
O’Connell & Company’s “Love Letters” is a simple and touching story that’s particularly appropriate for the Valentine’s season. It’s playing at Buffalo’s Park School until February 24th. For tickets and more information, click here.