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Alda and Bergen Shine in Their 'Love Letters' Debut

by Photo of Paul Hansen

The rotating cast featured two new leads, and we caught their opening performance in A.R. Gurney’s play.

Alda and Bergen Shine in Their 'Love Letters' Debut

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Does anyone write letters anymore? The question entered my mind as I watched Candice Bergen and Alan Alda last Tuesday in their splendid debut as the new cast of Love Letters, A.R. Gurney ‘s two-person play. The drama was first performed on Broadway in 1989 when few had heard of email (did it even exist back then?). Regardless of the method of communication, Love Letters is a poignant play of two characters attempting to connect with each other over a number of decades while experiencing the vicissitudes of life.

The play centers on Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner who met as upper-class youngsters and had a childhood attraction to each other. By early adulthood they have drifted apart while keeping up an extensive correspondence. Almost like two lines diverging on graph paper, the play charts the upward ascent of Ladd (becoming a U.S. Senator, no less) while Gardner’s promising situation is undermined by an unsettled domestic life and emotional instability. Somewhat reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Remains of the Day, Love Letters subtly catalogs the nuances and foibles of two characters which prevent them from forming a true romantic bond.

I have always admired Alda’s acting which is consistently infused with intelligence and incisiveness. Bergen is also quite effective, and is particularly moving in portraying her character’s vulnerable states.

There is a fine chemistry between the two performers. The theatre lights reflecting off of Bergen’s beautiful golden hair and Alda’s more silvery locks accentuates the feeling that the performance space and the audience are basking in a certain shimmery intelligence.

As noted in a review of a prior cast (Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy), the physical trappings of the production are sparse. The set consists of nothing but a table and two chairs, and once the actors are seated they remain that way for the entire production while reading letters from a binder. Despite the minimalist setting, the audience at the performance I attended seemed very focused on the drama for the entire ninety minute run of the play, largely because of the astute pacing and inflection of Bergen and Alda. The play reminded me of how old radio programs could be so effective in using just audio elements to memorably tell a story.

There is a humorous edge to much of Love Letters, but towards the end of the production there is a certain melancholy that suffuses the atmosphere from emotional opportunities that may have been missed. One is left with the impression that letters, like ships, can pass each other in the night.

Alan Alda and Candice Bergen are appearing in Love Letters through December 18. Stacy Keach and Diana Rigg take over the production beginning December 19, and Anjelica Huston and Martin Sheen will be appearing from January 10 through February 15. The flyer for the show states “many more brilliant casts to be announced.” Well, love letters are never really out of style, whether in paper, text or email form.

Love Letters is performing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre located at 256 West 47th Street.

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