Posted by: Tom Owen | August 19, 2009

Love Letters (1988) – A.R. Gurney, SPS 1948

Love Letters (adapted from Wikipedia)

Love Letters is a Pulitzer Prize for Drama-nominated play by A. R. Gurney.

Biographical Notes
A. R. Gurney (Albert Ramsdell Gurney Jr.) (born November 1, 1930) is an American playwright and novelist. The playwright is known for works including Love Letters, The Cocktail Hour, and The Dining Room. Gurney currently lives in both New York and Connecticut.

Born in Buffalo, New York, Gurney, a graduate of St. Paul’s School, attended Williams College and the Yale School of Drama, after which he began teaching Humanities at MIT. He began writing plays such as Scenes from American Life, Children, and The Middle Ages while at MIT, but it was his great success with The Dining Room that allowed him to write full-time. Since The Dining Room, Gurney has written a number of plays, most of them concerning WASPs of the American northeast. Gurney also wrote the musical: Love in Buffalo. This was the first musical ever produced at Yale.

In 2006, Gurney was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Summary
The play centers on just two characters, Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III. Using the epistolary form sometimes found in novels, they sit side by side at tables and read the notes, letters and cards – in which over nearly 50 years, they discuss their hopes and ambitions, dreams and disappointments, victories and defeats – that have passed between them throughout their separated lives.

Melissa is portrayed as rich, spoiled, with a private nurse and private schools, artistic, certainly lascivious, divorced, eventually alcoholic, bi-polar, and suicidal. She hates writing “these goddamned letters” while Andy Ladd is square, destined for Yale, a naval officer, a lawyer, and a U.S. Senator, and says that “writing letters is what he loves most”. In his preface to Love Letters, A. R. Gurney suggests that his emphasis in this play on the importance of writing is more than coincidental. Many in the audience leave a powerful Love Letters performance with a tear on their cheeks.

The play is a performance favorite for busy name actors, for it requires little preparation, and lines need not be memorized.

It was first performed in 1988 at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut with Joanna Gleason and John Rubinstein.

Directed by John Tillinger, it opened with Kathleen Turner and Rubinstein on March 27, 1989 at the off-Broadway Promenade Theatre, where it ran for 64 performances. The play was performed only on Sunday and Monday evenings and changed its cast weekly. On October 31 that same year, a Broadway production opened at the Edison Theatre, where it ran for 96 performances. The play has been performed by Carol Burnett, Brian Dennehy, Mel Gibson, and Sissy Spacek at the Sheridan Opera House in Telluride, Colorado.

In 1999, Gurney adapted Love Letters for a television movie, directed by Stanley Donen, that dramatized scenes and portrayed characters merely described in the play. Laura Linney and Steven Weber starred.

On December 1, 2007, Elizabeth Taylor and James Earl Jones gave a benefit performance of the play, to raise $1 million for Taylor’s AIDS foundation. Tickets for the show were priced at $2,500 and more than 500 people attended. This event happened to coincide with the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike and, rather than cross the picket line, Taylor requested a “one night dispensation”. The Writers Guild agreed not to picket the Paramount Pictures lot that night, to allow for the performance.

On July 26, 2008, Sigourney Weaver and Jeff Daniels performed Love Letters at the Detroit Institute of Art’s Detroit Film Theater in a benefit for the Purple Rose Theatre Company.

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