Reviewed by Jade Goodes
Pittsburgh Public Theater explores love and loss in their latest production of Love Letters. Starring Family Ties own Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross, the play is a reminder of the importance of the written word and how it brings people together.
Love Letters follows Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III’s 50-year-long relationship told through notes, thank you cards, and letters they wrote one another. The show begins with Melissa and Andrew as childhood friends, and the play explores how their relationship changes over the years from friends, to lovers, to acquaintances, to dear friends, and back to lovers again. They discuss their hopes, dreams, victories, and defeats that have passed between them throughout their separate lives. While ultimately showing their deep connection and understanding for one another.
This show is unique in that the story is told strictly through letters. Two actors sit next to each other at a table in the center of the stage and take turns reading letters, notes, and cards their respective characters sent the other. The show relies solely on this, so the letters are the star that is taking center stage rather than the actors.
I had never been to a production like this before, so I was skeptical and questioned if I would enjoy the nature of the show. While I will say it took time to adjust to the format, I quickly was able to lose myself in the piece and found myself captivated by the story and its characters. It’s funny how you become attached to these characters even though you can’t see them. As an audience member, you have to rely heavily on your imagination to make this story come to life. I enjoyed this as I feel this allows for different perceptions and opinions on the work depending on the audience member. This play felt like a live reading of a novel. The actors are there to give a voice to the characters and the letters themselves. As an audience member, it is up to you to paint the rest of the picture.
I adored watching Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross together on stage. Although neither genuinely interacts, you can still sense the chemistry and the connection they share. I think they were an excellent choice in casting as they already have a history together and have performed this show together before as well.
Opening night, there were slight issues with the sound. I was only about ten rows from the stage, but the people around me and I had trouble hearing the actors. It was disappointing because I felt I missed essential elements of the story. It was opening night, however, so this issue is understandable. Another drawback to the show is its length. The show runs about 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission, and I felt it would have been more enjoyable as a one-act 60-75 minute show. To sit there for almost two hours to listen to what is essentially a novel being read to you is a lot to take in and digest. Especially when there’s nothing to break up the lengthy letters. The show is also a bit dated, but I didn’t feel this distracted from the message and heart of the story itself.
Love Letters is a unique theater experience that is full to the brim with nostalgia, regret, and romance. It celebrates the lost art of letter writing and how words connect us and impact our lives and relationships. It’s a beautiful love story featuring flawed but relatable characters whose friendship and love stand the test of time.
If you want to experience theater and writing in a new way, definitely consider checking out Love Letters.
Love Letters runs through July 24 at The O’Reilly Theater. Tickets can be purchased here: https://ppt.org/production/82212/list_performances