×

Broadway Review: ‘Love Letters’ with Mia Farrow, Brian Dennehy

With:
Brian Dennehy, Mia Farrow.

Brian Dennehy & Mia Farrow. Dennehy & Carol Burnett. Alan Alda & Candice Bergen. Stacy Keach & Diana Rigg. Anjelica Huston & Martin Sheen. That’s the revolving star lineup for the Broadway revival of A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters.” Although still a popular regional attraction, this 1989 two-hander has been largely forgotten by Gotham.  Or maybe not so much forgotten as deemed irrelevant for a culture that doesn’t get the point of love letters, or any kind of letters, or maybe even love itself.  Older theatergoers who remember those quaint artifacts should turn out for stars of their own generation who also remember. 

After all these years, Gurney’s bittersweet love letter to an oddly matched couple who maintain an epistolary friendship for half a century can still tug at the old heartstrings. Especially when handled with great delicacy by pros like Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy.

The staging is minimal and the structure is simplicity itself: two actors, a man and a woman of a certain age, sit side by side at a sturdy wooden table but never interact as they read from old letters, postcards, notes, and seasonal greeting cards (i.e., their scripts).  Under Gregory Mosher’s sensitive direction, the spell is never broken.

Popular on Variety

The first letter, written in 1937, comes from Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, who “accepts with pleasure the kind invitation of Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert Channing Gardner for a birthday party in honor of their daughter Melissa.”  What Andy doesn’t mention in his letter, but which soon becomes apparent, is that Master Andy fell in love with Miss Melissa the moment she walked into his second grade class.  (“You looked like a lost princess,” he tells her early in their correspondence.)

Andy is a good little boy, a very serious child who already feels the weight of his filial obligations to his stern father, and that is exactly how Dennehy plays him from the beginning, as a little man in the body of a 6-year-old boy. Melissa is another story. This fiercely independent girl, the child of uneasily divorced parents, is a born rebel, a real little devil, and Farrow grabs that naughtiness by the tail and never lets it go.

Practically the first thing she tells Andy is not to write her any more letters. But Andy has found his princess and before they make it into third grade, he’s already asking her to marry him.  On some level, he already senses that her wildness corrects his little-old-man stuffiness.

These are rich kids (in Melissa’s case, very rich indeed), so their growing friendship takes place within the context of their privileged Wasp social class: nursemaids, boarding school, dancing school, child psychiatrists, summer camp in the Adirondacks. Then it’s on to Yale and Harvard Law for straight-arrow Andy and to various schools for Melissa, who has distinct artistic leanings but keeps getting kicked out of school.

Farrow is wonderful at taking Melissa through the downward trajectory of her life and very protective about her keen intelligence and clear insights. “You’re always doing just the right thing all the time,” she writes Andy. “You’re a victim of your parents sometimes.” And just to make sure he gets the message, she sends him a sketch of a dancing bear on a chain.

By the time they’re finished with their schooling and are working on their first marriages, Andy and Melissa have grown miles apart. But neither one can quite let go of the other, and no matter how frayed the bond, their friendship lives on — remarkably, for fifty years — through their letters.

In his carefully modulated authorial voice, Gurney makes it quite clear that his mismatched pair are the yin and yang of a perfectly balanced relationship. That they complete one another. That they can’t live without each other.  And how sad it is that whenever one of them gets the message, the other one never seems to be around to hear it.

Broadway Review: 'Love Letters' with Mia Farrow, Brian Dennehy

Brooks Atkinson Theater; 1096 seats; $127 top.  Opened Sept. 18, 2014. Reviewed Sept. 16.  Running time: ONE HOUR, 30 MIN.

Production: A presentation by Nelle Nugent, Barbara Broccoli, Frederick Zollo, Olympus Theatricals, Michael G. Wilson, Lou Spisto, Colleen Camp, Postmark Entertainment Group, Judith Ann Abrams / Pat Flicker Addiss and Kenneth Teaton, in association with Jon Bierman, Daniel Frishwasser, Elliott Masie, Mai Nguyen, Paige Patel and Scott Lane / Joseph Sirola, and associate producers Jonathan Demar and Jeffrey Solis, of a play in one act by A. R. Gurney.

Creative: Directed by Gregory Mosher. Set, John Lee Beatty; costumes, Jane Greenwood, lighting, Peter Kaczorowski; sound, Scott Lehrer; production stage manager, Matthew Farrell.

Cast: Brian Dennehy, Mia Farrow.

More Legit

  • Protesters demonstrate at the Broadway opening

    'West Side Story' Broadway Opening Night Sparks Protests

    Roughly 100 protestors gathered outside the Broadway premiere of “West Side Story” on Thursday night, carrying placards and chanting in unison to demand the removal of cast member Amar Ramasar. “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Ramasar has got to go,” they cried while holding signs that read “Keep predators off the stage,” “Sexual predators shouldn’t get [...]

  • West Side Story review

    'West Side Story': Theater Review

    Whittled down to one hour and forty-five minutes, “West Side Story” – with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins — has grown exceedingly dark and mislaid some of its moving parts in the new Broadway revival from edgy Belgian director Ivo Van Hove. (Can [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Closing in March After Box Office Struggles

    “The Inheritance,” a sprawling and ambitious epic that grappled with the legacy of the AIDS epidemic, will close on March 15. The two-part play has struggled mightily at the box office despite receiving strong reviews. Last week, it grossed $345,984, or 52% of its capacity, a dispiriting number for a show that was reported to [...]

  • MCC theater presents 'Alice By Heart'

    Steven Sater on Adapting 'Alice by Heart' From a Musical to a Book

    When producers approached lyricist Steven Sater (“Spring Awakening”) to adapt Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” into a musical, his initial reaction was to recoil. His initial thought was that the book didn’t have a beginning, middle and an ending. But Sater pulled it off with his production of “Alice By Heart.” After an off-Broadway [...]

  • The Lehman Trilogy review

    Sam Mendes' 'Lehman Trilogy' Kicks off Ahmanson's New Season

    Sam Mendes’ “The Lehman Trilogy,” which took London’s West End by storm will be part of the Ahmanson’s lineup for the 2020-21 season. It will be joined by Broadway hits “Hadestown” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Artistic director Michael Ritchie announced the season that will also feature four fan favorites and another production to be [...]

  • Zoe Caldwell Dead

    Zoe Caldwell, Four-Time Tony Winner, Dies at 86

    Zoe Caldwell, an Australian actress with a talent for illuminating the human side of imposing icons such as Cleopatra and Maria Callas in a career that netted her four Tony Awards, died on Sunday due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, according to her son Charlie Whitehead. She was 86. Caldwell occasionally appeared in television and [...]

  • Cambodian Rock Band interview

    Listen: How 'Cambodian Rock Band' Became One of the Most Produced Plays in the U.S.

    One of the hottest trends in American theater this season is Cambodian surf rock from the 1970s — and that’s thanks to “Cambodian Rock Band.” Listen to this week’s Stagecraft podcast below: Playwright Lauren Yee’s genre-bending stage show, part family drama and part rock concert, has become one of the most-produced plays in the U.S. this season. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content