Theater on a Upper West Side living room. It’s Peter Wallace’s apartment and the artist himself opens the door to greet the audience and welcome them inside his home. It is intimate theater at its best. A beautiful New York Size 2 beedroom that serves as improvised stage to Mr. Wallace and Ms. Peynot. The play that is taking place is Love Letters by A. R. Gurney, a funny and emotional portrait about the powerful connection of love. Two friends, rebellious Melissa Gardner and straight-arrow Andrew Makepeace Ladd III have exchanged notes, cards and letters with each other for over 50 years.
The play is written to be performed simply with two actors seated at a table facing the audience. Aside from that there is no set and no additional physical action required. The play is designed to be performed by both actors “on-book” — that is, script in hand. In this way, this play is theater/ story-telling at its simplest: it is about the words. This is particularly fitting seeing as the play is told through the words that the characters write to each other via letters over the course of their lives. Love Letters was first performed by a group of actors in the late 80s at the off-Broadway Promenade Theatre. It was performed with a new cast each week and only on Sunday & Monday evenings (so actors that were in on-going shows could take part).
Ms. Peynot wanted to make the play with Mr. Wallace: “Pete, I want to do this, and I want to do this with you.” “So I read it and I said OK. Another initial thought I had when I read it was that both characters in the play are roughly the same generation as my grandmothers. (Also the same generation as the playwright). Too young to have fought in World War II. But old enough to remember it. It occurred to me that this generation really saw a dramatic change in the way people communicate over the last 60-70 years. They remembered before everyone had a telephone, and now they are living in the age of the iPhone. Wow. They saw telegrams, telegraphs, vinyl, letters, fax machines, and everything in between. And not only that, but they used all of these methods of communication. Actively. And shifted with them. That is almost too much for my millennial head to wrap around.” “It occurred to me almost immediately that maybe my grandmothers might relate to these characters. Both of them live in assisted living facilities so I thought: why not reach out to those places and see if we can perform for them?. Because another thing about this generation, as every Broadway producer will tell you: they love the theater. And respect it. So we reached out to Atria Tanglewood on Lynbrook Long Island where my grandmother has recently moved. We were able to perform it there. And we have performed it at two other Atria locations since and we will perform it at two more.”
Now, after the success at the senior housing locations and Mr. Wallace’s apartment they are due to end the production at a private location in Williamsburg on june 20th.
Love Letters premiered in 1988 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Price for Drama.