North Carolina Theatre‘s production of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters is a sensual and literary feast for anyone who has treasured a handwritten letter from a person whom they have admired. This two-character show, which stars Sandy Duncan and Ira David Wood III and runs Jan. 12-14 and 16-21 in Raleigh’s A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater, employs a minimum of stage equipment, and a maximum of emotional impact, to tell a story that spans decades. It’s one of the best plays of the season!
Though the tale is a simple one of letters written between two children who become fast friends before World War II, the show is in no way old fashioned or stuffy. Sandy Duncan’s sassy and sarcastic way of delivering Melissa Gardner’s lines builds an understanding for Melissa’s often caustic (and zippy!) one liners and her tendency to keep Andrew Makepeace Ladd III (David Wood) at a distance. Both characters are unique and well drawn, complicated and complex, classic and contemporary.
No two characters could be as different as these two who sit behind desks on stage that curiously represent their genders and personalities (Melissa’s desk has a graceful curved Queen Anne leg, while Andrew’s is a turned leg, more the staid style considered Early American.
Andrew is a born letter writer, whereas Melissa complains heartily about having to write. He’s the serious boy who studies hard and gets into the school of his choice, not because of his family name but because he worked for it. She, on the other hand, blows every opportunity presented to her, yet still expects something better to come. But both Melissa and Andrew know that there is always one person in their life who will still (eventually) answer the letter they have written.
Both actors handle the rapid-fire dialogue with ease, always knowing when to spin it or when to slow a phrase down so that it will be totally appreciated. There is no doubt in this reviewer’s mind that I will be remembering or using some of the most memorable lines, such as, “If I went to a psychiatrist, I’d talk about you,” or “I have to find feelings. Any feelings.”
The play has many moments of pure comedic brilliance as the couple writes their way through a friendship that spans almost 50 years. They talk about school, home, dating, current events, their passions, their secrets and, mostly, themselves.
Love Letters also has moments of gut-wrenching pain that would have much weakened by actors of a lesser caliber than Ms. Duncan and Mr. Wood. Even though neither moves from their places behind their respective desks, their characters are fully alive and embodied in facial movements, small gestures, and their truly expressive voices.
The play, the subject, the actors, and the theater itself create a cozy and warm look behind closed doors at the complicated ways men and women conduct relationships. Both Sandy Duncan and David Wood are believable and enjoyable in their roles, creating a contemporary recreation of a story from another time and of another way of communicating. It hits home with audience members who equate the romance in letter writing both to the relationship between the letter writers as well as the romantic aspects of earlier times when a scented linen envelope might find its way into your mailbox.
For a masterful look at two of the best in action, book your seats for Love Letters at Fletcher Opera Theater. It might just inspire you to buy some stamps.
SECOND OPINION: Jan 13th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8788; Jan 12th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW TV interview with actors Sandy Duncan and Ira David Wood III, conducted by Jeffrey Kare: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-TV-North-Carolina-Theatres-LOVE-LETTERS-20180112; and Jan. 10th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/love-letters/Event?oid=8648150. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 11th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2018/01/sandy-duncan-and-david-wood-will-star-in-the-nct-production-of-love-letters-by-a-r-gurney/.)
North Carolina Theatre presents LOVE LETTERS, starring Sandy Duncan and Ira David Wood III, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 14, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16-19, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20 and 21 in A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $29.22-$90.22, except $29 college-student tickets.
NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944, or http://www.nctheatre.com/tickets/season-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/803995.
2017-18 SEASON: https://nctheatre.com/show-season/201718-season.
NCT NEWS RELEASE: https://nctheatre.com/blog/show-spotlight-love-letters.
PRESENTER: http://www.nctheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre, https://twitter.com/nctheatre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/nctheatre.
NCT BLOG (Stage Notes): http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes.
Love Letters (1988 New York Public Library, 1989 Off-Broadway, and 1989 Broadway play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=996 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.argurney.com/small_casts.html#loveletters (official web page), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/1202 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/love-letters-5590 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_Letters_%28play%29 (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
A.R. Gurney (Buffalo, NY-born playwright, 1930-2017): http://www.argurney.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/627 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/ar-gurney-84220 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0348672/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._R._Gurney (Wikipedia).
Guy Stroman (Terrell, TX-born New York director): http://guystroman.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/11060 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/guy-stroman-92974 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0834890/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://www.facebook.com/guy.stroman (Facebook page).
Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.