Coarse hacking coughs linger in the air between silences. Tension cuts itself with a dusting of deep swallowing sounds. The audience has saliva no more.
Of all the letters, notes and postcards, there is not a pen, pencil or even bloody finger nib in sight. Two pen pals, Melissa Gardner (Meredith Baxter) and Andrew Ladd III (Michael Gross), sit across tables and the span of their lives to update each other and recount the days they spend apart.
Crisping through the leaves of a two-ring folder, Baxter and Gross get familiar with the dramatic reading. Thirty years of doing the same act on and off shows as they use the pages mostly for refreshment. The back-and-forth between Melissa and Andrew drawing out an intimate, nurturing response from both.
The two friends massage time with their correspondences. Days and weeks take a breath to experience that infinite unknowing wait before tearing open the next letter. Shuffling around in their desk chairs, the two consume the air with an earnest wanting in times of radio silence.
Playful repartee cuts into that patience. Early in the relationship, passing notes back and forth allows for a quick reply. It’s sending missives across states and countries that manages some distance in pauses. Even if there is no real on-stage difference in how long they wait before dashing the next epistle. Time folds and what remains are the ashes of being.
From casual friendship to love askance, the older they get the more temporal distance yawns. Emotions don’t get seated really until the static essence of written words feel unable to hold down the fluid pace of life’s hectic steam. There then comes the tug of what’s on the page creating its own energy and vibrancy. The more they miss out the more their words seem to bring together.
A. R. Gurney’s Love Letters fetches that noted sense of purity in writing something down as an expression of the self. That fixing of ideas and phrases into words on a page to be concrete and truer than talking against the void. An inexact jigsaw of filling in the pieces is what makes letter-writing what it is. Email tries to come close, but the immediacy loses out on that care that once seeped in ink.
Listening to ink dry with a 15 minute intermission of the 21 February 2019 performance at The Center for Rural Development. During intermission quite a few audience members never return, applauding their own way out.
Reviewed on Sunday, 3 March 2019
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