LOVE LETTERS by A.R.Gurney.
Directed by Kate Blackhurst. Performed by Michael Sparks and Andrea Close. Set design Andrew Kay. Costume designer. Susan Cooper. Properties. Gail Cantle. Lighting design. Stephen Still. Sound designer. Neville Pye Sound designer Justin Mullins. Canberra Rep March 15-26
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
By the time that this review of A.R.Gurney’s Love Letters appears on Canberra Critics Circle the season could well be over which is an absolute shame. Under the astute and sensitive direction of Kate Blackhurst. Michael Sparks as Andrew Madison Ladd lll and Andrea Close as Melissa Gardner give performances that are so professional, so engaging and so perfectly realized that Rep’s production deserves to run for months to full houses. Sadly, Canberra seasons are notoriously short so that works as wonderfully staged as Rep’s Love Letters rarely receive the adulation thay deserve or the full houses that this production warrants.
From the moment that Sparks jumps up to sit on his desk as a lively likeable 5 year old to respond to Close’s confident and forthright Melissa’s fifth birthday party invitation the stage radiates charm and childlike wonder. And so begins a lifetime of correspondence between these two very close friends. For fifyty years Andy and Melissa share their different school experiences, their holiday adventures, their fears and frustrations, Andy’s successful career and rise to the Senate and Melissa’s artistic successes and failures and failed marriages. As Andy’s star rises, Melissa’s wanes. Through the longing and the pain, the rebukes and the reconciliation, the friendship and the love survives.
Director Blackhurst and Sparks and Close plummet the nuances that reach to the soul. It is in Andy’s response to Melissa’s silence or painful confessions. Sparks and Close brilliantly expose a relationship charged with the torment of denial and evasion.
What A.R.Gurney devised as a clever exercise for celebrity actors with minimalist staging, performed readings of beautifully constructed and soul searching writing becomes a profound expression of love, loss and longing in Rep’s production. Set designer Andrew Kay’s double location revealing the chatacters’ individual setting, Susan Cooper’s simple costuming, Neville Pye and Justin Mullins’ sound design and Stephen Still’s lighting and Gail Cantle’s detailed attention to properties all create an ideal setting for Blackhurst’s empathetic direction.
The chief plaudits go to Sparks and Close. Their George and Martha in Free Rain’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf had already established them as two of Canberra’s very finest actors. Their performances in Love Letters are funny and sad, touching and intensely human in a production of Love Letters that is a joy to behold. Rep’s production must be revived and audiences should rush to get a ticket. After all, A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters is correspondence that pens the very character of our lives.