Ali MacGraw, Ryan O’Neal Deliver a Special Evening
By Skip Sheffield
Who knew two people, an older man an older woman, sitting at a table, wearing reading glasses and reading letters could be so entertaining?
When the older people in question are Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal and the words they read are by A.R. Gurney, believe it. It is entertaining, funny, meaningful and moving. It’s no wonder “Love Letters” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1989.
“Love Letters” has been performed by a variety of celebrities because it requires minimal rehearsal and it is simply read rather than memorized. The impact of the words depends on the unspoken emotion of the actors. Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal have a long history, having rocketed to stardom together in a little 1970 movie called “Love Story.” They have each had their ups and downs in the years since. It is this unspoken back story that gives A.R. Gurney’s fanciful story of a man and woman over 50 years its power. Melissa Gardner (Ali MacGraw) is a rich girl. Andrew “Andy” Makepeace Ladd III (Ryan O’Neal) is not poor, but not nearly as well-off as Melissa. The story begins at a birthday party on April 19, 1937. Melissa asks Andy if he will be her Valentine. Andy says yes. So begins a relationship mostly through letters; most often Christmas cards, as both attend prep schools and colleges, have romances and breakups and begin careers. All the while there are missed opportunities. Though they are quite different (she’s an arty rebel, he’s a conservative conformist), there is the sense they are destined to be together- yet that destiny is not to be fulfilled. Performed in only about 90 minutes without intermission, the play builds in power as it approaches its finale. By then it is quite emotional and both actors are visibly moved.
July 21 was opening night for a ten-city national tour. It was a special evening, and Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal were rewarded with a much deserved standing ovation. See it if you have a chance.
“Love Letters” runs through Sunday, July 26. Tickets start at $35. Call 800-745-3000 or go to www.browardcenter.org.