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THEATER REVIEW : Allen and Meadows Dispatch 'Love Letters' With Intuition

January 12, 1994|RICHARD STAYTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Letters are still our salvation," write the lovers.

Indeed. Just when we feared that the post office had routed their correspondence to the dead letter department, Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III are together again. This time the mailman has delivered A.R. Gurney's "Love Letters" to the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, where the play's charms prove just as beguiling as during its record-breaking residency at the Canon Theatre in 1990-91.

But it's inaccurate to write "together again" about Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows. Their longstanding marriage provides the Gardner/Ladd epistolary relationship with graceful naturalism and intuitive timing. Allen and Meadows sit at an ornate wooden table and read aloud from the New Englanders' 50-year correspondence as if it's their own diary. Listening to this couple, you feel like a privileged visitor eavesdropping on intimate confessions.

Since "Love Letters" has no staged action, it's dependent on speech and body language to provide all dramatic impact. Among Allen's many gifts--writing, directing, composing--acting is the least of his talents. He tends to read too rapidly, obscuring the emotional depths hidden beneath Andrew's prim-and-proper Ivy League pose.

*

Meadows is the purer actor, possessing a more expressive voice. Her Melissa sounds tough and resilient, but underneath the acerbic wit hides a vulnerability begging for Andrew's tender embrace. We understand through Meadows' pauses and silences why the privileged New England heiress succumbs to alcoholism and despair.

Nevertheless, sentiments and tears emerge, thanks to Gurney's inspired concept. It's to the La Mirada Theatre's credit that no stage director is listed. "Love Letters" requires no rehearsals, no memorizing of lines, no costumes and no sets. All that's required is a pair of actors who can be themselves. Allen and Meadows meet that challenge beautifully.

* "Love Letters," La Mirada Theatre, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7:30 p.m., Saturday & Sunday matinees, 2:30 p.m. Ends Jan. 23. $28-$32. (714) 994-6310; (310) 944-9801. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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