An ode to love and letters at Art Café

Louisa Graf and Timothy Lone in rehearsal
Louisa Graf and Timothy Lone in rehearsal
Photo: Cathrine Winding

(CS) A.R. Gurney's Love Letters tells the story of Andy and Melissa's friendship and love, from childhood to middle age, in a series of letters they write one another throughout their lives. The play is now brought to Luxembourg by the Actors Repertory Theatre in an intimate production at the Art Café.

A Pulitzer Prize finalist, Gurney's Love Letters falls somewhere between being a play and a reading. Andy and Melissa sit on stage, side by side, reading each other the letters of their lives. What starts as innocent notes in primary school turns into a lifeline, as parents divorce, boarding schools suck, college awaits, new friends met and careers forged.

But where Gurney could have turned the story into a soppy kitsch-fest, worthy of a big-screen romcom, he chose the complicated and complex reality of life. Andy and Melissa grow up, they want different things, they grow apart only to find each other again. As their path separate and re-cross, the audience can hardly help but root for them.

Lives explored in letters

The Art Café in Luxembourg City with its velvet-clad walls and comfortable chairs and sofas is well-suited to this intimate play. We are invited into Andy and Melissa's world and the living-room atmosphere brings them even closer to us.

Reading someone else's mail is like reading someone's diary. You're not meant to do it. However, Andy and Melissa offer up their penmanship to us and open the door to their private conversations, jokes and secrets.

This is not a production with flashy sets and props. There are no jazz-hands moments. It's a quiet play that slowly unfolds as the decades in Andy and Melissa's lives roll by.

It's all the more important therefore that we believe in the relationship. Timothy Lone and Louisa Graf tackle the challenge admirably. Especially Graf inhabits her role right from the start, conveying Melissa's journey from child into adult, from frustrated teenager to struggling woman. Lone grows into the character as Andy ages and matures, hitting just the right tones towards the end of the play, in which important decisions jeopardise his relationship with Melissa.

Director Erik Abbott uses what limited scope for action there is well. Small gestures and mannerisms, hidden glances and rolling eyes, as well as a clever interval costume change, let Andy and Melissa grow up but still remain their old selves.

A play about love and writing about love

Love Letters is as much about letter-writing as it is about love. Arguing over why he doesn't just use a phone, it's so much quicker and easier, Andy explains to Melissa that he does not like calls that simply disappear into thin air when you hang up. A letter is something to keep, to hold on to.

In a time of text messages, emails, Skype, Facebook and more communications technology than anyone really needs, Gurney's play, written in the late 1980s, has a whiff of nostalgia about it.

You will probably find yourself wondering when you last received a letter, let alone a love letter.

Love Letters continues at the Art Café from February 2 to 4, with a second run scheduled from February 10 to 13. All performances start at 8pm.

Tickets are available for 18 euros (adults) and 8 euros (students) at +352 621 520 711 or tickets@ActorsRep.lu