‘Love Letters’ at The Flying Muskrat Theatre Company by Joel Markowitz

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FOUR STARS
Advertised as “Gurney’s ‘Love Letters’ Like You’ve Never Seen it Before” The Flying Muskrat Theatre Company’s production, directed with much love by Leanne G. O’Neill and Assistant Director Brennan Jones, features some effective changes to a show that has had a tradition of utilizing two actors performing on a simple set-usually sitting at two desks, or on chairs behind two podiums, with a few plants for added color.

Tifani T. Carnes Younger Melissa) and  Matt Nordan (Younger Andy). Photo by Rich Stanage.

Tifani T. Carnes Younger Melissa) and Matt Nordan (Younger Andy). Photo by Rich Stanage.

A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters is about the highs and lows of a 50+ years friendship- the ups and downs, the frustrations, the successes, between the not-so-happy Melissa Gardner and her ‘Liberal Republican’ love Andrew Makepeace Ladd III (Andy).

Performing at the North Bethesda United Methodist Church in an intimate space, the hard-working cast captures the rollercoaster of emotions quite well, as they read/perfomed the letters that Andy and Melissa had written to each other for five decades. Here two sets of actors – not just the usual two actors – are cast to play the younger – beginning at age 6 – (Matt Nordan and Tifani T. Carnes) – and the older – starting in their mid-twenties (Lisa Hill-Corley and Joshua Rich). Both sets of actors complement each other well and deliver emotional and sometimes humorous readings and performances. Having the younger actors utilized as ‘flashbacks’ works very well here.

As for the new set changes, Set  Designer Stephan Miller and his Assistant Madison Meinbreese) fill the stage with an easel and paint supplies for Melissa the artist, and there is a desk for the business-like Andy who loves to write letters: “I feel most alive writing letters. They are a present from me to you.” And there are black raised platforms that the actors sit on or perform on, which get in the way and clutter up the stage, and I hope they will be removed for the next performances.

Gurney’s poignant script is filled with many funny lines and an emotional ending that might make even the toughest of theatregoers shed a tear or two. In between, we are taking on a journey of their relationship – The first act covers Melissa and Andy’s younger years as they meet in second grade, start writing letters to each other even after they are sent to separate boarding schools, and they continue their letter-writing while attending different colleges. These letters are romantic and passionate and funny, but also filled with disdain for the stresses their parents/step-parents have placed on them, or as Melissa exclaims, “You’re a victim of your parents sometimes.”

Lisa Hill-Corley (Melissa) and Joshua Rich (Andy). Photo by Rich Stanage.

Lisa Hill-Corley (Melissa) and Joshua Rich (Andy). Photo by Rich Stanage.

And even as their lives take different paths, these heart-warming letters provide what their relationship couldn’t be in person- because these letters are “a way of presenting yourself in the best possible light.” There are many regrets of ‘should haves,’ but lots of joy for maintaining the long friendship over the years.

Ava Hockenberry has designed the outfits for the two sets of Melissas and Andys. Melanie Reuter provides crisp sound. The Prop crew includes Jeremy Maline, Mindi Maline, and Courtney McCarthy.

The Flying Muskrat Theatre Company’s heartfelt production presents the audience with two flawed characters, played by four energetic actors – who look and act and laugh and hurt and regret-just like us. How can you not feel for these characters? This is why Love Letters continues to be performed all over the world and here at The Flying Muskrat Theatre Company, and why you should make time to see this production.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with one intermission.

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Love Letters plays tomorrow, Friday, February 14th and Saturday, February 15th at 2:00 and 7:30 pm at the The Flying Muskrat Theatre Company performing at the North Bethesda United Methodist Church  – 10100 Old Georgetown Road, in Bethesda, MD. Tickets are $10 at the door and $9 online.

Tonight’s performance has been cancelled.

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