A truly great love story, says Stefanie Webster, requires that that the people don’t end up together. With characters separated by geography and circumstance, A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters fits the bill to a T.
Webster and her husband Justin are performing the play at Theatre Three-Eleven in Listowel, reprising the roles from their first-ever production at the venue they launched 10 years ago.
Called one of the best plays of the ‘80s by Time Magazine, Love Letters was first performed in 1988. It has since become a favorite of audiences and actors alike. Love Letters centers on the dutiful and staid Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and the eccentric and lively Melissa Gardner. The play unfolds as the two actors read the characters’ letters. The audience experiences Melissa and Andrew’s unique, 50-year friendship and romance through the notes, postcards, letters, and holiday greetings they wrote one another starting at the age of seven through boarding school, college, military service and beyond.
“We were both exposed to it in our theatre schools. We loved it right from the beginning,” said Webster of the play. “It’s a very authentic love story. You don’t expect it to draw you in because it’s just some letters being read on stage, but everyone who sees it does get drawn in to their lives.”
The story finds Andy and Melissa sometimes fighting, sometimes flirting, sometimes laughing and sometimes crying. However, the one thing that cements the two souls who, for most of their lives find themselves at great distances from each other, is the letters that persevere even through their darkest hours.
“There are lots of humorous bits, some poignant moments and some good arguments,” she said, noting the audience in essence grows up with the characters as their relationship grows.
Moving to Broadway in 1989, Love Letters shows us the ups and downs of Andrew and Melissa’s lives. Their aspirations, their successes, their failures, and their innermost feelings for each other are revealed through the letters and cards that they exchange over the decades.
They are two very different people, but they are forever connected by that one important ingredient, said Webster: love.
“Their relationship shows you can have a soul mate in a completely different person.”
It is ultimately the tale of unrequited love between two soul mates, meeting her criterion for a great love story, even though people in the audience find themselves rooting for Andrew and Melissa to finally get together.
“The play’s words carry the performance and actors performing it are strictly instructed by the playwright to not ‘mess with the text.’ It is to be performed simply and truthfully and this is likely why the play’s effect is so moving. Sometimes the best love stories are those that are pure and simple.”
Given that the play has two actors on a simple stage reading letters, you have to have some pretty fine writing to keep an audience hooked. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1989, Gurney’s script certainly qualifies. The story is simply captivating, said Webster.
“It brings you in. It makes you think about love, the importance of finding someone that you can really connect with. It makes you think about how you treat the people you love.”
Love Letters runs until May 14, Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $17.50 for adults, $12 for students under 18, available by phoning 519-291-2033 or 1-877-455-0552 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The theatre is
located at 311 Main St. E., Listowel.