Love Letters | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Love Letters 

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LOVE LETTERS, at Royal George Theatre Center. In a world where glitz sells, it's almost reassuring that audiences will pay top dollar for a show without spectacle, just two actors at a desk reciting other people's love letters and never looking at each other until the end.

But here it's not so noble. Here the spectacle is the husband-wife team of Robert Wagner and Jill St. John. Trailing clouds of glamour, they're the big-ticket equivalent of the helicopter in Miss Saigon. Fortunately A.R. Gurney's epistolary charmer puts their charisma to good use. In a lifelong exchange of letters between repressed patrician Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and heiress without a cause Melissa Gardner, Gurney meticulously chronicles lost opportunities and public triumphs. Andrew, a lawyer and senator, can risk being himself only in his letters to Melissa, to whom he suggests the passions he sacrificed along the way. A failed painter, Melissa is driven by booze, divorce, drugs, and despair to an early death. But sadly Gurney cops out at the end, allowing Melissa to hear Andrew pour out the love he was too genteel to confide when she was alive.

The material is all but actor-proof, and Wagner and St. John add their grace notes: St. John strongly conveys Melissa's slow descent, and as if resisting his character, Wagner overreacts until the end. Intentionally or not, he could be on to something: Andrew's curse is his willful cluelessness.

--Lawrence Bommer

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