Candice Bergen is a five time Emmy Award winner, two time Golden Globe award winner, and an Oscar nominee. Alan Alda has also been nominated for Academy Awards and has taken home entertainment trophies for his roles on television’s The West Wing and M*A*S*H. Both Bergen and Alda have graced Broadway stages and have convinced us that they can handle the medium of live theater with comfortable ease.
How is it then that their pairing in Broadway’s Love Letters seems so awkward and mismatched? Love Letters is A.R. Gurney’s 1989 Pulitzer prize-winning play that has found its way back to the Brooks Atkinson theater. Since September, producers have lined up big name talent to read letters written between two complicated lovers slash friends over the course of their lifetimes. Mia Farrow began the run as Melissa Gardner, a girl of affluence who blossoms into an adult in search of herself Along the way, she battles heartbreak, depression, and rehab. In the midst of life’s trials, Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, her childhood sweetheart, comforts, encourages, and at times, frustrates Gardner. Brian Dennehy assumed the role of Ladd upon the show’s opening.
Bergen’s performance is much too brash and self-assured. Gardner is sweet, vulnerable and girlish but still expresses a confidence which suggests that she is not a complete pushover. Here, Bergen plays her too much like Murphy Brown, the character in the sitcom of the same name, and the role for which she is best known. A a hard-hitting TV Anchor, a caustic, annoyed demeanor works. Here, however, her Melissa is too defensive, making it difficult to empathize with her. Alda seems altogether disengaged from the material. Ladd’s likeability hinges on the fact that he is torn between the loves that he did have as adult versus the possibilities of a life with Gardner. Through the years,an abding respect and devotion for Gardner remains intact. This makes Ladd perfectly human and relatable. But Alda’s body language suggests that he is bored and would rather be at a bar, sipping a martini with Loretta Swit. At this particular performance he actually lost his place in the script–with the pages directly in front of him.
And…the…dramatic…pauses…seem…endless. Both actors interject so many of them that the usually brisk 90 minutes feel painfully interminable. There is a fine line between dramatic pause and a lunch break. Candice Bergen is a fine actor. Alan Alda is worthy of critcal praise. Love Letters is a poignant, thoughtful, and deeply felt play. The combination of all three, though, generate an exchange of correspondence that is not much more than a string of misfired missives.Let’s hope that the next line-up (including Diana Rigg and Stacy Keach, Angelica Huston and Martin Sheen) will handle Gurney’s poetic script with more depth and sensitivity.
Love Letters on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson theater, 256 W. 47th (between Broadway and 8th ave.) Tickets available at the box office or by visiting: http://lovelettersbroadway.com/. Visit the site for the guest star schedule.