IF YOU ASK ME: Farrow and Dennehy shine in ‘Love Letters’

Area theatergoers have only until Sunday to catch the luminous Mia Farrow acting her heart out in “Love Letters” at the Long Wharf Theatre. This special engagement in New Haven has the actress paired with a very fine Brian Dennehy in a revival of A.R. Gurney’s classic two-hander. It’s stage magic.

A.R. Gurney’s epistolary romance actually started at Long Wharf in 1988 and its homecoming over a quarter of a century later is certainly a cause for celebration. This is one of Gurney’s finest plays and that’s saying a lot about an author responsible for such modern classics as “The Dining Room” and “Sylvia.” Every time I see another production of “Love Letters” I marvel at the complexity of character that Gurney has defined so acutely and the discovery of something new missed in previous viewings. The staging and setting (by Frank J. Alberino) is spare here: the actors sit side by side in comfortable chairs reading the letters at a handsome mahogany table situated on a rich Oriental rug.

The deceptively simple “Love Letters” covers the decades-long friendship/love affair between two privileged WASPs with one, Melissa Gardner (Farrow), just a tad more privileged than another, Andrew Makepeace Ladd III (Dennehy). Over nearly two hours (played wisely here without intermission), we see a lifetime covered in correspondences of heated emotion, every day incident, miscommunication, love and laughter between a couple whose timing never seemed to be quite right.

The role of Melissa, with her rebellious streak and passionate nature, is the juicier role to play and Dennehy seems to concede this by allowing Farrow a wide berth. She is fascinating to watch as she progresses from hormonal teenager to lonely housewife using her entire body (even while seated) to convey years of conflicted emotion and change. Her final scenes, not to be revealed here, are powerful enough to reduce even the hardiest among us to tears. Dennehy lacks variety in the early moments of the play but grows into Andrew with sterling fortitude and admirable nuance as the play continues. Under the graceful direction of Gordon Edelstein, both actors shine and bring delicate feeling and powerful conviction to their roles.

“Love Letters” made its 1988 debut on Long Wharf’s smaller Stage II and, if there’s one complaint I have about this current revival, it’s a lack of intimacy. In Long Wharf’s larger mainstage theatre, many in the audience will miss some of the specifics Farrow has given her character because this really is a play that demands and thrives in an intimate setting. Then again, when you have stars the caliber of Farrow and Dennehy, it’s an economic necessity, no doubt, to have as many available seats as possible.

Even if you’ve seen it many times before, “Love Letters” is a play that never seems to grow old. And this current rendering is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Make tracks.

“Love Letters” continues at Long Wharf through April 10. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.