If you happen to experience a few minutes of unsettled shifting as you begin to watch the latest production by CAN-ACT Theater, don't fret. It will pass.
That's sometimes a problem with staged readings. One expects a play to have plenty of movement, light changes, mood music, and so forth. But staged readings are a different animal. In order for them to work well, directors must count on two very important things--a compelling story and performers who can interpret the work well enough for an audience to enjoy, using little more than their voices. Fortunately, in this case, director Randall Webster has both.
The show is Love Letters, a beautifully written story by A.R. Gurney Jr., who also penned such classics as The Dining Room and The Cocktail Hour. Love Letters takes us, literally, into the thoughts of two people--Andy (Kevin Kimsey) and Melissa (Becky Jaynes), childhood companions who carry on a 40-plus-year friendship through letter writing.
Love Letters' staging is simple, but works--two tables in a fine-dining setting, with the actors each sitting at one, elegantly dressed--as if waiting for a date to arrive.
The pair launches right into a childhood story and it's clear that they're not meant to be much older than 8 or 10. Melissa is slightly stuck-up in the "I always know better" vein, while Andy struggles a bit to fit in. These early letters serve as nicely effective foreboding to the role reversals the characters experience later in life.
Soon, talk of summer camp and birthday parties gives way to more serious observations about college and boarding school, and eventually marriage, children, and loss of loved ones. Along the way, Andy gradually gains confidence and pursues a law degree and a U.S. Senate seat. Melissa, meanwhile, becomes estranged from her husband and children, falters in her career as an artist, and begins to fall into depression.
The impressive thing about Love Letters is how quickly one becomes convinced that Andy and Melissa really do care for each other, despite some bickering over the years and unanswered letters--a credit to the story and to the performances of Kimsey and Jaynes.
Kimsey, a longtime Boise-area theater actor and director, shines best during Andy's later years, as his character battles his renewed feelings for Melissa with his desire to keep his career and family intact. Kimsey saves the best for last in his final scene, a tearful letter to Melissa's mother that is devastating in both its delivery and impact.
Jaynes convincingly conveys Melissa's heartbreaking spiral into loneliness, while simultaneously shedding the trappings of her upper-crust upbringing as she realizes that she wants Andy in her life.
One minor criticism--both actors need to look up more often. Even during a staged reading in a show revolving around letter writing, an audience needs and wants to see the emotion in a performer's whole face--no matter how compelling the play itself is.
7 p.m. Feb. 9, 8 p.m. Feb. 10-11 and 2 p.m. matinee Feb. 11. Presented by CAN-ACT Theater, Karcher Mall, Nampa.
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