NEW YORK (AP) — What's the minimum requirement for putting on a play? Is it performers? Sets? Memorization? Surely, at a minimum, it's acting, right?
More than a quarter-century after "Love Letters" premiered, A.R. Gurney's charming ditty of a play has landed on Broadway with virtually none of the characteristics of what you might expect in a play.
While the script is clever, the thinness of the spectacle — which the author himself insisted upon — is sadly deflating, as if the audience is being asked to watch an early rehearsal instead of a polished jewel demanding $60 for even the worst seats.
Two actors — in this case, Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow — come onstage in unremarkable clothes, sit down at a desk and begin reading aloud from binders for the next 90 minutes. They never stand and only glance at each other at the end. The most excitement you get is when an actor licks their finger to turn another page.
Good stuff for a benefit. Not so much for a big night out on Broadway.
You almost feel sorry for Dennehy and Farrow, who are both trapped in a twilight between full-on acting and reading. It's like putting a mighty Rolls-Royce engine into a Fiat 500.
The play is made up of letters, Christmas cards, birth announcements and notes between a woman and a man over decades, starting in 1937. We see their friendship and budding romance deepen, from birthday parties to high school dances and rare meetings. We hear them juggle depression, jobs, jealousies and marriages. The notes establish a rocky but important relationship — perhaps the most important relationship for each.
But Gurney has straightjacketed his work by insisting on "no mugging," no crying, no music, no looking at each other "until the end," no curtain, no costume changes, no memorization, "no embellishments." And he even wants the male actor to pull out his companion's chair before they can begin.
A stroke of promotional genius has put this on Broadway: A starry rotating cast will continue the work after Dennehy and Farrow have gone. The next slated celebs include Carol Burnett, Alan Alda, Candice Bergen, Stacy Keach, Diana Rigg, Anjelica Huston and Martin Sheen. How each will play — sorry, read — their parts should be fascinating.
Dennehy is great as a young earnest lover and is wonderful years later as a respected man torn in several directions emotionally. Farrow is inspired as a bored, girlish rich girl whose later years are marked by darkness and neediness.
Behind them is an impressive roster of theater's big names whose contributions will leave you scratching your head: Two-time Tony Award winner John Lee Beatty supplied a wooden desk. That's it. A desk. Tony winner Jane Greenwood has dressed Dennehy in a blue open-necked shirt and suit jacket, while Farrow got a long-sleeve jersey and pants. Street clothes and a desk?
It gets worse: Tony winner Peter Kaczorowski's lighting will remind you of the inside of a Wal-Mart. And Gregory Mosher's directing — especially with two acting thoroughbreds onstage — amounts to handing them binders and wandering off.
The understated can get a bad rap in the theater, but can work on Broadway wonderfully, proven this year by the musical "Violet." This old play would require months of work simply to be understated.
Forget the love letters. Someone deserves to start writing apology notes.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits