Love Letters

ABET (Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre) opened a three weekend run of A. R, Gurney’s l989 play, Love Letters. Three pairs of local actors join the many well known and not-so well known Love Letters couples who have sat side by side reading the life-long correspondence between two soul mates. Andrew Ladd III and Melissa Gardiner, the two characters in this play, have been friends since the second grade to their senior years and have maintained this long long relationship via letters and notes through the mail. They write about everything, careers, lovers, happiness and disappointment, sexual desires; it is all there in the intimate correspondence.
Award winning actor and Director Del Austin has cast three couples who certainly know their way around a stage with years of experience. Austin knows the local theatre scene and actors as well as anyone I know. As the founder of Theatre Alliance of Greater Jacksonville, he sees almost every show done in this city and knows most actors on a and one on one basis.
The opening weekend of letter reading was performed by Carson Merry Baillie and her husband John. They met and married many years ago in Tangier, and have performed on the stage together many times over the years at most of the local theatres. Carson is a principal founder of ABET, and has been responsible for so many new actors discovering the stage. I could tell you tales of her recruiting actors to be in her shows by searching for just the right look in the streets and even in the aisles of Publix. She did not care if they never acted, she could teach them that and she did.
Mr. Baille brought a quiet and understated presence to the role of Andy, after all he was the more serious and career minded of the two. Mr. Baillie has many moments of humor as well, describing his first sexual experience and facets of his collage life.
Mrs. Baillie’s years of award winning direction shows up in her performance of Melissa with excellent timing, vocal variety and gestures, as she moves from carefree banter, to angry out-pouring and eventually to despair.
If you missed these theatre legends, don’t fret, you have two more weekends to enjoy this unique theatre experience. On January 16, 17, & 18, Bill Ratliff and Harolyn Sharpe will recreate Andy and Melissa. The final weekend January 22, 23 & 24 has John Pope and his wife Sue giving their interpretation.
I can’t count the number of times I have seen this Pulitzer Prize nominated play since it debuted twenty years ago, but each time has been different. Oh, the words have been the same and the set almost always the same (two tables, side by side facing the audience), but each was unique since many of the lines resonated differently as each actor brought his or her personality and style into the picture. Director Austin’s excellent casting almost insures interesting productions the entire run.
I mentioned earlier that many famous people have done this piece, mainly since it requires little rehearsal since the actors don’t have to learn the lines and is inexpensive to stage. John Rubinstein and Kathleen Turner did it on Broadway and since then there have been such interesting pairings as: Liz Taylor and James Earl Jones, Timothy Dalton and Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows, Sigourney Weaver and Jeff Daniels, and finally Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers of “Hart to Hart” just to name a few.
If you are so inclined, you can go to a second weekend to see it with a different couple at a special reduced ticket price of $10.00. Be forewarned, Melissa’s language can be a bit earthy and blunt on a couple of occasions as her life was more adventuresome than Andy’s. Call 249-7177 for reservations. Don’t miss this exciting theatrical experience.