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Hamptons Winter Theater Review: "Love Letters" Is Outstanding

T.J. Clemente

Catherine Maloney and Daniel Becker. (Photo: Dane DuPuis)

Love Letters, a play by A.R. Gurney being presented at the Southampton Cultural Center (SCC), is an emotional experience. Actors Catherine Maloney and John Leonard had a wonderful cadence and tempo - no doubt schooled into them by East End icon and director Michael Disher. Seated at a simple table with simple lighting, the two actors had the audience's full attention from the first opening lines. It is amazing how the words of a well written play with skillful acting can mesmerize an audience without a need for an elaborate set, costumes and over the top lighting. This show delivers so many messages I don't know where to begin.

I will begin by saying Catherine Maloney plays Melissa Gardner. Ms. Maloney, already an East End favorite of mine from her litany of previous work, brought her talent to a whole new level even while seated in the same chair for the one hour forty-five-minute show that is performed in two acts. Her facial physical acting skills were superb and nuanced, as if the audience had zooming in capabilities to see every raised eyebrow, twitch, smirk, smile, laugh or delicate recital of the letters of a lifetime back and forth with John Leonard's character, Andrew Makepeace Ladd III.

Mr. Leonard's performance had a unique innocence to it that gave me a different perspective of the show, a show I had reviewed some 15 years ago at Guild Hall with the great Eli Wallach playing the role of Andrew Makepeace Ladd III. Mr. Leonard brought out a new softer dimension to the role. Again, the chemistry of the line delivery was so amazing I could literally feel Michael Disher's director's golden touch at hand.

Afterwards on the way home my wife and I had a very deep conversation about the twists and turns in this tragic love story of what happens to two people brought together by life in an early age. Then along the journey of living they take, separated by events paths, until the very sunset era of their lives. Often produced around Valentine's Day I feel the production has a timeless quality all well written plays possess. Yet it takes great direction and passionate skillful acting to make brilliant lines come to life. On this account this production is a total success.

Love Letters can be seen Friday, February 8 through Sunday, February 17 at the Southampton Cultural Center's Levitas Center for the Arts. Performances will be held on Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

General Admission is $25 and children's tickets (under 21) are $12. There will also be Dinner/Theatre packages - offered at The Plaza Cafe and Claude's at the Southampton Inn - and Brunch/Theatre packages offered at Fellingham's and Claude's at the Southampton Inn - available.

Note: Daniel Becker, Barbara-Jo Howard, John Leonard and Catherine Maloney alternate in the lead roles. Mr. Becker and Ms. Howard are paired for two performances, as are Mr. Leonard and Ms. Maloney. On Sundays, they switch partners. I reviewed the show on Saturday February 9.

The Levitas Center for the Arts is located at 25 Pond Lane in Southampton. For more information, call 631 287-4377 or visit www.scc-arts.org.

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