The Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas presented the play “Love Letters” by A.R. Gurney Thursday night before an enthusiastic audience that packed the onstage seating area in the theater auditorium.
In the opening night of a two night performance, the presentation featured Martin Carty playing the role of Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Nan Simmons playing Melissa Gardner, two people who communicate nearly constantly with one another through letters punctuated every so often with face to face meetings over a 50 year arc from the time they are children until they are in their 50s.
Carty, who also directed the production, begins the show in an exchange of letters between Ladd and Gardner in which he is invited to her birthday party and he gives her the book “The Lost Princess of Oz.”
As the letters go on the years go by and the letters become ever more intricate and filled with ever more grown up topics.
Carty and Simmons bring real depth to their characters as we come to see the life of a young man driven to do the right thing and to strive for academic success mixing chaotically yet earnestly with the life of a free-spirited young woman with an unhappy home life and dreams of artistic expression mixed with foreign travel.
At the same time that one of the two reads from one of their letters, the other is seen to be reading that letter complete with facial expressions and body language in response to the words they are reading.
Gardner is portrayed as someone who expresses herself through her art and from their earliest interactions she draws pictures for Ladd.
Ladd on the other hand finds his truest expression in the written word and his muse is Gardner.
Ladd progresses upward in life and ultimately becomes a U.S. senator from New York while Gardner leads a difficult life defined by alcoholism and depression.
Gardner’s few encounters with happiness are found in her art and in her relationship with Ladd.
Carty and Simmons communicate the emotion of these two star-crossed lovers beautifully and bring the viewer into their simultaneous extreme devotion to and often intense dislike of each other.
Ultimately the story takes a disastrous turn and Gardner takes her own life, leaving Ladd grasping for his lifeline that has now disappeared leaving the audience in a posture of deep empathy for the two.