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Steel River’s ‘Love Letters’ delivers a poignant message

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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.

Deb deCastro Braak and her real-life husband, Bill Braak, star in "Love Letters." Photo by John Daggett

Deb deCastro Braak and her real-life husband, Bill Braak, star in “Love Letters.”
Photo by John Daggett

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.

IF YOU GO
What: “Love Letters”
Where: Steel River Playhouse, 245 E. High St. in Pottstown.
When: The show continues through Saturday Feb. 13.
Info.: Tickets are $15 to $22 and available online at www.steelriver.org or by calling 610-970-1199. Online ticket ordering allows audience members to select their seats. Groups of ten or more are eligible for a discount. Remaining performances are Thursday Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m., Friday Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. and a Saturday matinee Feb. 13 at 2 p.m.
For the Saturday evening performance, Steel River is presenting its first-ever dinner theater. Seating begins at 7:30 p.m. with table appetizers and champagne toast. Dinner will be served at 7:50 p.m. “Love Letters” will begin at 8:30 p.m. Tickets for dinner and the show: Seating/1 @ $70, Seating/2 @ $140. The dinner theater is almost sold out. Call 610-970-1199 for availability.

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.

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