REVIEW WRITTEN BY CHERYL THORNBURG
For Digital First Media
You might think that seeing a play for the 14th time would get a little boring, but Steel River’s production of A. R. Gurney’s Pulitzer-nominated play, “Love Letters” is so well done that I felt like I was reconnecting with old friends.
The play tells the story of two children from well-to-do families, Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, who meet in the second grade and form a lifelong friendship. Throughout their lives, they stay in touch through letters, but for much of the time, they are not on the same page.
The play opens in the 1930s and follows Melissa and Andrew through five decades of their lives.
Melissa is played by Deb deCastro Braak and Andrew by her real-life husband, Bill Braak. That connection adds depth to their performances.
Their characters are total opposites. Melissa is flirty and adventurous and manages to get kicked out of several boarding schools. Andy on the other hand is reserved and conservative, goes to Yale, becomes a lawyer and eventually becomes a U.S. Senator.
Deb’s Melissa is feisty and rebellious with just enough hint of what lies behind that rebellion. She has the audience routing for her a she goes through divorces, addiction and other disappointments.
Bill’s Andrew is finely nuanced, with subtle gestures and facial expressions to convey his feelings. This works well in Steel River’s intimate Newberry Loft where the play is staged. The audience is just a few feet from the actors, giving an up-close and personal theater experience.
“Love Letters” delivers laughs, bittersweet moments, regrets and a unique love story. It takes the audience on an emotional and at times, intense journey, with a conclusion that left some audience members teary-eyed. It is worth seeing again and again, because each pair of actors brings their own experience and interpretation to the stage, making it their own. Deb and Bill Braak’s version is one of the best I have seen.