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THEATER REVIEW

'Love Letters' Gets South County Stamp

January 23, 1998|MARK CHALON SMITH

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — A.R. Gurney wrote about everlasting romance and friendship in his popular "Love Letters," but the play also reminds us that the art of correspondence is fading from our lives.

This broadly sentimental two-actor piece, which has proved remarkably durable since setting box-office records at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills from 1990 to '92, hinges on the deepening relationship between two WASPish New Englanders during 50 years of letter-writing. No hasty telephone chats or brief e-mails, just carefully considered letters.

In this South Orange County Community Theatre production at the Camino Real Playhouse, Ron Lance's sensitive but stuffy Andy tells Barbara Hollis' creative, troubled Melissa that he feels most alive when writing to her. It's an emotional moment played in a satisfyingly low-key way by Lance. We know that Andy and Melissa may not make it as a couple, but they are surely forming a lasting bond.

Hollis, who also directs, sticks to the customary setting, with Andy and Melissa at a wooden desk and only Molly Rosen's warm lighting to illuminate them. They begin reading with pages of letters exchanged as kids.

The show is weakest in this early stage, when the actors appear uncomfortable as precocious children.

Lance takes a quiet approach, which comes closest to working. We don't get a strong sense that Andy is a boy trying to figure out who he is and what he'll become, but at least Lance's reading doesn't get in the way of Gurney's writing.

Hollis, on the other hand, succumbs to petulance in trying to convey Melissa's mix of exuberance and fickleness. She improves after intermission, when Melissa is an adult. In portraying her heartache over a failed art career and her later alcoholism, Hollis keeps the pathos from going over the top.

Andy becomes more successful and happy. He marries and raises a family, then becomes a senator. There are problems with wife Jane and his kids, but he always seems to be moving upward. Lance's reserve communicates Andy's mild assurance and straight-ahead tack.

Other actors will assume the roles of Andy and Melissa in the remaining weekends of the run, with Marlene M. Draper and Casey Hayes appearing today through Sunday and B.J. Scott and Tom Scott on Jan. 30-Feb. 1.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

* "Love Letters," Camino Real Playhouse, 31776 El Camino Real, San Juan Capistrano. Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends Feb. 1. $10. (714) 489-8082. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Barbara Hollis: Melissa

Ron Lance: Andy

A South Orange County Community Theatre production of A.R. Gurney's play, directed by Barbara Hollis. Producer: B.J. Scott. Lighting: Molly Rosen.

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