Love and Lovers Inspire at the Pollard with “Love Letters”
“Love Letters” is brimming with the heartbreak of lost love alongside the joy of true friendship. The Pollard Theatre presents “Love Letters” under the astute direction of Gregory Hopkins. A. R. Gurney’s sensitive exploration of love and life in the privileged world of wealth and circumstance is stirring as the two characters in “Love Letters” maintain their relationship through letters beginning in childhood and continuing through life, yet they do not connect in person. “Love Letters” is performed in a Reader’s Theatre format and earned a well-deserved Pulitzer nomination.
Reader’s Theatre is a dynamic presentation for stage allowing Hopkins to make full use of audience’s imagination. Performers ‘read’ from the script seated in comfortable chairs. In some ways the format is easier to direct and perform without worrying about blocking or physical staging, but it’s balanced by the degree of subtlety and intensity the actors must project. Hopkins is benefitted by two of Oklahoma City’s finest actors, Billie Thrash and Stephen Hilton.
The characters are complex and interesting as they tell their story in letters. Melissa is the daughter of very wealthy but unhappy parents who divorce. Her unhappy mother’s next marriage is a poor choice and Melissa writes of her despair. From childhood Melissa is loved by Andy, born of financially secure but pedestrian parents. Andy’s full name is Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and even his name is an indication of the expectations he and his family have for his life.
Billie Thrash is phenomenal as Melissa. One of the difficulties in Reader’s Theatre is that the actor is always on stage. There is no exit. Actors have water available to them as needed. As “Love Letters” progresses through their lives Melissa begins to emulate her mother. The water Thrash sips begins to swirl in her glass like gin instead of water. This change in viscosity is due entirely to the imagination Thrash inspires with the quality and emotion in her speech and subtle expression. Stephen Hilton’s ‘stuffed shirt’ Andy is marvelous. His water, on the other hand, remains water at all times. His subtle yet intense expressions reveal a man who maintains control of every aspect of his life. Andy’s only outlet is clearly in the loss of that control that comes in his much-needed relationship with Melissa. Both of these actors are masters of fine nuance in expression and voice that hide nothing.
It’s time to unglue the eyes from the magic of television and view live performance, and “Love Letters” is an excellent way to inspire the imagination. Television is wonderful, but it steals away our imagination. Reader’s Theatre, like radio, feeds the imagination with nourishing impressions inspiring the mind to forgotten heights.
Technically “Love Letters” perfect; the lighting and scenic design by Artistic Director W. Jerome Stevenson sets the perfect mood while the sound and media design by Jared Blount intensifies the experience. Stage Manager and properties master Timothy Stewart as well as Michael James in costuming have less complicated duties than usual, enabling greater focus on all endeavors. On the crew is Stef Fortney maintaining the set at intermission with elegant precision.
What a Valentine’s Day for the opening night of “Love Letters” but for anyone who misses the romance it’s not too late. “Love Letters” runs through February 29, 2020 at the Pollard Theatre at 120 West Harrison in lovely downtown Guthrie. Curtain is 8:00 pm evenings and 2:00 pm for each Sunday matinee. For tickets and further information call the box office at 405-282-2800 Tuesday through Friday or visit www.thepollard.org. And let your heart speak in letters and beyond forevermore.