Just Six Preview Performances
On September 13, 2014, A.R. Gurney’s play Love Letters had its first preview at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. After just six previews, on September 18, 2014, the show had its official opening. Whereas most shows usually run for three or four weeks of previews before inviting the press to review the show, denoting its official opening, Love Letters took a different approach. The reason is that the show is cast with a rotating selection of actors, all who are at the top of their trades. As the show is read rather than memorized, which they can get away with due to the conceit of letters, there is less left to chance than with most shows, so fewer preparatory performances were needed. Moreover, as this preliminary cast – Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy – is only slated to appear until October 10th (with Dennehy continuing on until November 8th), it was necessary for the press to be invited early on, so theatregoers would have a chance to see the cast represented in the reviews for a few weeks after the reviews came out.
A Rotating Cast of Stars
This is the second time Gurney’s epistolary play has been seen on Broadway – the first time was in 1989. The 2014 revival is directed by Gregory Mosher, who is presently the artistic director of Lincoln Center Theatre, and who has directed such Broadway shows as That Championship Season, A View From The Bridge, and James Joyce’s The Dead. Like in the first production of Gurney’s play, the show is performed with a rotating cast of stars, taking turns in the two-hander. As mentioned, the first duo is Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy, and on October 11th Carol Burnett will step in to read with Dennehy. Brian Dennehy is a Broadway star best known for his portrayal of Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman. Farrow, on the other hand, hasn’t been seen on Broadway since 1996, but she is renowned for film performances in such movies as Rosemary’s Baby. On November 8th, the pair will be replaced by Alan Alda and Candice Bergen, and on December 6th the duo will be played by Stacy Keach and Diana Rigg. Finally, from January 10th to February 1st, the run will conclude with the roles played by Anjelica Huston and Martin Sheen.
Mixed Reviews, Tending Toward the Positive
The reviews spanned the spectrum, with critics either praising the durability of the revival along with the star performances, or panning the show for being glorified staged reading. It is true that the actors have not memorized their lines, which is why the producers were able to woo such esteemed actors, and so many of them, to do the parts. Furthermore, as these actors have busy film schedules, the short stints allowed many of them to take on the roles when they would have normally been unable to commit to a Broadway show. Therefore, the balance works out, as long as the audience doesn’t mind seeing the actors with their glasses donned and reading the parts from the pages of the letters. Fortunately, it is all about the letters, and the story was commended for its tribute to a now old-fashioned form of communication in this age of email and text messaging. The play was reported as being quietly moving and deceptively simple, while the performances were lauded for the depths they managed to reach.