Love Letters: A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW
Jacksonville Florida’s Alhambra Theatre & Dining opened “Love Letters” on January 9th, 2020, which remains on stage through February 9th, and is the first of nine golden oldies in the Alhambra’s 2020 season. The play, written by A.R. Gurney, premiered in New York in 1988 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Casting is easy as the play has only two characters: Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III. Throughout the play, they sit at separate tables on opposite sides of the stage and read cards, notes and letters they have sent to each other over the past fifty years. They were neighbors as children and went to the same school and the same birthday parties, but grew apart as they graduated, chose different colleges, married, and had children.
Their correspondence includes birthday party thank-you notes, postcards from camp, and many letters, which, sometimes humorously, reveal their hopes, dreams, triumphs, delights and disappointments. They should have married when they were young. But they didn’t.
The actors are well-known to Alhambra fans: Andrew is portrayed by Tod Booth, Melissa by his wife Lisa Valdini Booth. In 1984, they traveled from their home in Chicago to Jacksonville: he had been asked to direct “I Ought to be in Pictures,” starring Lisa as a teenager along with the well-known cowboy actor Claude Akins. They ended up buying the place, to the delight of the theatre community.
Lisa has appeared in many Alhambra productions. She has a fine singing voice and is also a wonderful comedian. She is fabulous as Melissa, portraying a woman having a difficult life path while maintaining a closeness to one she loves who is seemingly unattainable.
Todd sold the theatre to Craig Smith and investors several years ago, which freed him to do what he loves best: casting and directing. The results have been impressive as this is very likely the best performing dinner theatre in the USA. He is a fine actor as well when he can find time, as he has with this appearance in “Love Letters”
Side note: Tod was the director of “Best Little Whore House in Texas” in his early years at the Alhambra, and wound up in the role of the Sheriff in the final two weeks of the show. The male half of the Dual Critics was cast in the role of the Mayor and working under Tod’s direction remains a cherished experience.
The current production is a family affair: Lisa and Tod’s daughter Jessie Booth is the director. She appeared in her first show on this stage when she was eight years old, and has since appeared in a number of Alhambra’s productions, displaying terrific talent. She is currently a New York based actress and director who works with Broadway and National Tour productions.
“Love Letters” has been performed by a long list of some of the greatest actors. It’s a performance favorite for busy actors because it doesn’t require as much preparation as most stage plays and the actor’s lines don’t need to be memorized. And for audiences in today’s world of non-stop tech saturation, there is a wonder in experiencing a complex relationship brought to life by spoken words.
The menu includes: First Course – Chopped Salad or Broccoli and Cheddar Soup; Second Course: a generous portion of Chef DeJuan’s Slow Roasted Prime Rib with mashed potatoes, green beans and natural jus; Braised Chicken Thighs with carrots wrapped in smoked bacon and velouté sauce; Butter & Herb Seared Monkfish with Jumbo Shrimp, baked rice au gratin, spinach, lobster broth and citrus salad; or Giant Sweet Potato, stuffed with vegetables and Asiago cheese. Desert choices: Carrot Cake or Warm Pear Cobbler.
Coming up next is “How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, “which opens on February 20th. The theatre is located at 12000 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida. Ample free parking is available. Ticket prices range from $38.00 to $61.00 per person. Visit alhambrajax.com or call 904-641-1212 for reservations.