Oh those pesky first heartbreaking loves. How they haunt us.
Stop right this minute and say the name of your first love. Just do it. And then reach back further and think of the one when you were little who kind of stole your heart before you knew you had one. Yep – that’s the person right there. Second grade perhaps? That would be just about the age when Melissa and Andy met, back in second grade in 1937. First there was the formal invitation to the birthday party with the obligatory hand written acceptance. Thus began the journey.
Andy (Brian Dennehy) and Melissa (Mia Farrow) fall into this mode of communication and stay there for over 50 years. Once again it is due to circumstance – long distance calls were stunted affairs decended from the telegram. Hello. Emergency. Hospital. Come soon. OR Arriving tomorrow. Noon train. Back in the day the only place that a person was allowed to luxuriate in words was on paper. Even in person (these are WASPS after all) the words were held to a minimum as though a person might run out of them. They were rationed.
As well these two were torn asunder by parents who shipped them off to private schools, private camps, private colleges. And still the letters connected them. Soon it was their way of being private to avoid parents listening on the phone.
As Andy becomes more stable and locked into the right sort of life, Melissa slowly falls apart. Her parents divorce and her family is disjointed and a disappointment. Her marriages fall apart, she is forced into rehab and loses custody of her girls. Flits from place to place. Takes lovers and tries to lose herself in her artwork.
Andy makes the slow steady climb, with a stable family life (appearances?) and a dog, all the way to the Senate.
When life gives Melissa and Andy the opportunity to cross paths, they jump at it, and the fire that has been glowing bursts like fireworks. Reality appear on the scene to claim them, however, and choices made are obligations kept, no matter the heart ache that goes into them.
Mia Farrow is delicious as Melissa at all ages. Her young child is a frisky thing so earnest she snatches at your heart before you have a chance to cover it. She fights her descent like a child being dragged off a playground. Dennehy catches up to himself as Andy becomes a young man, and pretty much stays in that mode for the duration. But it is not a bad choice for this character.
There is no mention of any war, which is odd, or pretty much anything in the outside world which is even more odd. And of course the casting for the next few months will be all white actors – no affluent folks of any other color living in New York in the 1930’s I guess. And I don’t envy the people in the mezzanine or balcony who don’t see these two faces as the actors sit at a table and never look anywhere but straight ahead.
Details. Details. Details. Because it is still, in the end, a conversation of two hearts that connected early enough in life that their root system intertwined. They remained that way – never loving another person the way they loved each other.
Life’s magic pageantry indeed.
"As performed by a sterling Mr. Dennehy, playing the rock-solid, letter-loving Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, and an utterly extraordinary Ms. Farrow, as the flighty, unstable and writing-averse Melissa Gardner, Mr. Gurney’s intimate drama gains steadily in power, as life keeps ripping away at the seams of its characters’ well-tailored existences."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"An hour-and-a-half of 'he read/she read' on a bare stage, save for a ghost light, could be a static and blah affair. In lesser actors’ hands, the play could end up a pity party you don’t want to attend. With this duo, though, the play emerges as sweet, elegant and touching, as two lives come into vibrant focus."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"As craftily written as 'Love Letters' is, it’s also static: There’s not much director Gregory Mosher can do with this setup. The show lives or dies by its actors."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Both seasoned actors slide easily into their carefully shaded roles: Farrow affects a pixyish impudence as a freethinking rich girl, Melissa Gardner; Dennehy maintains a staunch pomposity as rules-bound Andrew Makepeace Ladd III."
David Cote for NY1/Time Out New York
"Despite the downsize ingredients, the evening, propelled by the performances of Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy, is surprisingly affecting."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"Smoothly directed by Gregory Mosher, who punctuates the letters with meaningful silences, Dennehy and Farrow evince a warm rapport."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
"For a play that starts out so unassumingly, savoring the very ordinariness of much of its characters' experience, there's unexpected pathos here. Watching the flickers of amusement, impatience, disapproval, rancor, frustration, jealousy and affection that pass across each actor's face while his or her co-star reads, there's a stirring sense of participation in the heartbreak of two lives destined to remain incomplete."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
"In his carefully modulated authorial voice, Gurney makes it quite clear that his mismatched pair are the yin and yang of a perfectly balanced relationship. That they complete one another. That they can’t live without each other. And how sad it is that whenever one of them gets the message, the other one never seems to be around to hear it."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...