Tuesday, May 06, 2008

REVIEW: Love Letters (Tivoli Theatre, Dublin)

What is this thing called celebrity, that even crumbs of which can turn a play into an event, a few pages of script into a going concern?

The shtick in AR Gurney's Love Letters, a play written in the form of a lifelong exchange of letters between two posh Yanks, is that the show has been built to allow big name stars slot into it easily, since the action requires them to be "on the book" -- reading out loud the 'love letters.'

Preseto! Gone is the irksome need to commit the thing to memory before it's time to catch that first class flight outta here.

That, at least, is one view of Love Letters, a just-add-celebrities drama along the lines of The Condemned, or even earlier, The Vagina Monologues. But the truth is – and it's not a big secret – there is a bit more to acting, and to making a show, than knowing the words.

David Soul plays Andy, a studious boy who grows into a stolid Senator, while Jerry Hall slips into the role of Melissa, a restless, Paris Hiltonish gal, given to booze and 'necking'. All of this we glean from their letters, for they rarely meet.

The performances are perfectly adequate – anything more, it feels, would be superfluous. And while Soul initially seems a little overawed by the occasion, even that hiccup can make sense here. A good laugh from the audience, and soon he and Hall hit a storytelling stride that gains momentum as the evening progresses.

Earlier dramas have often used this 'on the book' form as a way of rounding up celebrity names to generate publicity for social causes. But Love Letters has no real political axe to grind. It is, finally, a simple love story in a broadly humanistic vein, the strongest message of which is that the rich have feelings too. A point with which the celebs, presumably, enjoy some sympathy.

But none of that really diminishes this superbly-designed piece of writing, utterly without flab, in which the gentle story flows so gracefully between the lines that the sharp concept fades into the background, leaving a clear and emotionally resonant tale.

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