Sweet Smell of Excess

Easily staged, Love Letters has enjoyed productions all over the world since its 1988 debut, and each pair of the many actors who have played Andy and Melissa brought to it a distinct interpretation. The accomplished team of Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, married to each other in real life for 46 years, sit side by side at two writing desks. Facing the audience without ever looking at each other directly, they reveal themselves through postcards, invitations, announcements, "drippy Xeroxed letters," as Melissa calls them, "that congratulate yourself on all your accomplishments," and even through silences.

Skillfully using subtlety and nuance, Jackson and Wallach allow the audience not only to feel but to see the images and incidents of their lives A despite the physically static nature of the piece. Jackson is by turns feisty, crude, scathing, and needy as Melissa, elegant even as she slips in and out of hospitals and drinking bouts, and always amusingly self-aware. Alternately pinch-faced and bewildered-looking as he follows the conventional road instead of his heart, Wallach's Andy seems an exasperated match for Melissa, except that he understands Melissa so well, and she him. Jackson and Wallach's interpretation of Love Letters resonates with the ache of life's missed opportunities.

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