BLYTH – The Blyth Festival is my favourite place to escape to and last night was another enjoyable evening at the theatre. The new plays they present are always engaging and they have another great season opening up in a few weeks, but on this evening they were presenting a special fund-raising event. The play was Love Letters by A.R. Gurney.
Over five performances, this production will feature five separate couples. On this night, Jodi Kuran, who is the principal of St. Anne’s Catholic Secondary School, and Phil Main, a well-known radio personality from CKNX, played the parts of Melissa Gardner and Andy Ladd.
Melissa and Andy began corresponding in second grade with thank you notes and postcards from summer camp. Their correspondence is evocative, and often funny. They establish a deep relationship through letters that chronicle humorous observations and their feelings from age seven through high school then college and beyond.
Andy loves to write. He talks about how letter writing is a dying art and how he feels most alive when writing letters. However, when he tells Melissa details of his everyday life story, she is not terribly interested, telling him to write about his feelings. When she suggests the telephone might be not only be a more modern way to connect, but also much more efficient, Andy disagrees stating “telephone calls are dead as soon as they’re over” while letters are “alive” and can live on.
Kuran brings Melissa alive through not only her voice, but also her timing and befitting facial expressions. She crafts a cheeky Melissa who has privilege of wealth but lacks the richness of deep family bonds. She fights to expose the hypocrisies of the times, preferring to be a little rebellious even though it spins her in dangerous directions at times. Lost for most of her life, she becomes more vulnerable throughout the play showing, she is real and down-to-earth.
Main’s portrayal of Andy is reserved and low-key. He is the mature one, continually living up to his parents’ expectations of who he should be. In doing so he manufactures an artificially perfect family life. He is inflexible when it comes to deviating from respectability – a trait that emotionally devastates him. But, through his relationship with Melissa he admits to himself that she is the only one who truly loves him for who he is.
Letters are vital lifelines for Andy and Melissa. Their correspondence through the decades – like many love stories – includes silences and reconciliations, marriages, divorces, children, career adventures, and deaths. They share intimate details of love, relationships and opportunities missed because of ego and pride.
Kuran and Main make the characters of Melissa and Andy their own. They share a long enduring friendship that brings a sweet chemistry to the stage. Kuran brings a bit of sass and Main remains stalwart throughout the production.
“Love Letters is a lovely theatre piece,” says the director, John McHenry. “There’s no elaborate set or special effects, the focus is on the words; it’s heart-warming, poignant, and funny.”
I wish I could see all five performances as I can only imagine how real-life couples Bruce and Margaret Whitmore and Duncan and Lynda McGregor will each bring vastly different personalities to the characters. I don’t doubt Lisa Hood will bring a little sass to Melissa too while Quinn Ross and Shawn Van Osch will each bring an intensity to Andy in their performances.
If you get a chance to go:
Where: Blyth Festival
Thursday, April 30 at 8 p.m. features Shawn Van Osch & Lisa Hood
Saturday, May 1, at 8 p.m. features Lisa Hood & Quinn Ross
Sunday, May 2 at 8 p.m. features Duncan & Lynda McGregor
Cost: $25. Order tickets by calling 519-523-9300 / 1-877-862-5984 or visit online.