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Bay Theatre’s Love Letters

Kleenex needed for this unrequited romance about the surprise of the human condition — as we all know it.

Couple Nigel Reed and Valerie Leonard read another couple’s Love Letters.

Love Letters is a simple show about a complex relationship chronicled through 50 years of letters. It needs, playwright A.R. Gurney says, “no theater, no lengthy rehearsal, no special set, no memorization of lines and no commitment from its two actors beyond the night of performance.”
    If those actors happen to be a couple? All the better.
    Bay Theatre’s Nigel Reed and Valerie Leonard, married five years and costarring in their fifth production, convey the paradox of opposite attraction in a production that lovers of all ages will appreciate for its honesty.
    From their meeting in second grade, Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner are intrigued and supported by each other, even as life conspires to separate them. Thank you notes and penmanship tips morph into confessional missives as their summer camps, prep schools, colleges and careers frustrate their passion and feed their exchange. The bourgeois (him) and the artiste (her) become the other’s counselor and critic as they navigate lives where ambition, image and family are never far offstage.
    Ensconced in brocade and velvet with soft pink lighting, their cerebral connection is kinetic even as their physical union is denied. Each reads aloud as if alone, while the other reacts as if listening from afar. Letter writing, for Andrew, is rather like modern journaling: a cathartic organization of conflicted thought. Melissa, more comfortable with a paintbrush than a pen, uses it to explain her social ineptness. She would prefer a phone call, but Andrew will have none of that.
    Ironic that this 1989 play about the power of the written word began as the author’s exercise in learning to use the computer, the parent of e-mail.
    Reed, a master of introspective expression, can illustrate the journey through anticipation, disappointment, puzzlement and shock faster than you read this sentence. Leonard is surprising for her ability to produce tears amid manic smiles. Emotions seep from a woman who acts as if she had none. Both will have you reaching for Kleenex by the end.
    Despite this show’s reputation as a quickie to produce, this team spent nine days experimenting with lines. Does his wife ever catch him off guard with her delivery or reactions? “No,” says Reed. “She could never surprise me. I know her too well.”
    A charcoal sketch by Annapolitan Moe Hanson looms between the lovers onstage. What I mistook for an embrace is the artist’s depiction of people journeying through life. Either way, its ambiguity speaks to the surprise of the human condition as Andrew and Melissa know it — as we all know it.

    Director: Alan Wade. Set: Dan Interlandi. Lights: Andrew F. Griffin. Costumes: Christina McAlpine.
    Showing thru March 4 at 8pm ThFSa; 2pm Su at Bay Theatre Company, West Garret Building, 275 West St., Annapolis. $35-$45; rsvp: 410-268-1333; www.baytheatre.org.