The Lost Art
Who we are when we correspond in letters as compared to who we are when we meet in person?
Remember what it was like to write a letter? Way back when, before e-mail, before instant messaging? Putting pen to paper in the hope of sharing our thoughts with someone else is not as easy as it might seem.
Love Letters, a play by A.R. Gurney, demonstrates the power of minimalism. The stage is set with two writing desks, lit by reading lamps, and the cast consists of only two performers. Of course, when those performers are veterans with the acting chops of Robert Ivey and Nancy Eaton Stedman, the prospects are good.
The play, an epistolary tale of a man and a woman of privileged class that follows them through most of the twentieth century, is a demonstration of just how much story can be told on stage with only the right words and the right performances.
The tale of their lives, which veer off in very different directions, and their strange lifelong love affair is by turns simple and as deep as it gets. The letters they share literally run the gamut from elementary school Valentine cards to post-mortem regrets.
As the tale is told entirely through those letters, the question looms large: Who we are when we correspond in letters as compared to who we are when we meet in person? The fact that a letter can be a means of portraying oneself as much more forward, brave, or experienced than one might ever dare be face-to-face gets laid on the table several times throughout the play. The truth can be slipped between the lines.
The letters are as much between their abstractions of themselves and one another — the Golden Boy and the Lost Princess of Oz — as they are between the actual characters. Aren’t all letters, in some way?
The darkest corners of the lives of the characters are revealed with subtlety; ambiguous sentences that are never discussed further.
Both Ivey and Stedman deliver their lines throughout the play with poise and grace. It’s a credit to them how much character and emotion they manage to deliver through only a glance, an eyebrow raised, or a sucked-in cheek while seated at their desks.
Providing the sense of several decades passing by — of schools and summer camps, colleges and hospital stays, marriages and careers, children and choices — in the span of just over 90 minutes is an amazing accomplishment in itself.
It’s a mature piece of work that lingers well after the last line is delivered.
Love Letters • Piccolo Spoleto’s Stelle di Domani Theatre Series • (90 minutes) • $15, $12 seniors and students • June 6, 7, 8, 9 at 8 p.m. • Chapel Theatre, 172 Calhoun St. • 588-9636