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Monday, 20 February 2012 23:10

Writing rite

Written by Bob Wilcox
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In his plays, A.R. Gurney entertainingly chronicles the lives and social customs of the upper strata of the old families of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants of the northeastern U.S.

These are the people who have, since the founding of the Republic, set the tone and the standards for the country. Those who have come later, while clinging to some quaint and amusing customs from the Old Country, tend more and more, as they become more and more successful, to be like – or try to be like – those well-established WASPS.

These WASPS are, by and large, pleasant people. They rarely worry about money, and that helps one to be pleasant. They usually are well educated, and that usually makes them interesting. Some of their quaint customs also are amusing. So they are ripe for the picking by a dramatist with a light, wry touch who can turn them into a pleasant two hours traffic of the stage with wit, humor, sympathy, and a touch of pathos.

Gurney has found several ingenious ways to present these essential Americans on the stage. One of the simplest is the one he uses in Love Letters, the play that Avalon Theatre presented recently, as they put it, "as a valentine to our patrons and a farewell to ArtSpace."

In it, a man and a woman sit on either side of a table before an audience and read the letters written by Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III to each other. These letters trace their lives and relationship from childhood birthday parties and dances through boarding school and college dates and on into the successes – mostly his – and failures – mostly hers – of adulthood. They are funny, sweet, sour, painful, touching, loving and always entertaining.

At Avalon, the letters were read by Erin Kelley and Larry Mabrey, co-founders of the company, real-life husband and wife, and fine actors both. Joneal Joplin guided them as director. And that was all that was needed. It was a brief run. Let's hope they will do it again. It doesn't take much and pays big dividends in pleasure.

And the good news, announced at these final performances at Crestwood, is that Avalon will be moving the little theatre it has created there into the space in Grand Center occupied by the performing arts charter school in the old Carter Carburetor building across Grand from Powell Symphony Hall. The school will use it as their black box theatre, and Avalon will continue to produce their seasons there. The Crestwood ArtSpace was a lovely, generous, but always temporary idea, and one hopes that all the theatres and artists who found space there will be as fortunate in their next home as Avalon is.

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