I once read that architecture is in the corners, the points of connection that transform a wall into a room. If we take this idea that it is the connections that highlight the skill of the thing, then painting is in the blank space, dancing is in stillness, and theatre is in the transitions. Stage work is my favourite part of making theatre, as anyone who has worked with me will attest. I care deeply about transitions. This is to say that Love Letters by A.R. Gurney challenges my assumption. For this show, theatre is not in the transitions because there are none. This play is designed to be done with very little or anything—space, rehearsal, set. In its purest form, it is a conversation, albeit one that is stilted by the conceit of letter writing. The Genesian Theatre's production of Love Letters really highlighted that the core of this play is performance, and that, I guess, is where the theatre is.
Playing the couple at the heart of this show are Richard Cotter and Tricia Youlden, who I don't envy in this role. Holding an audience for 85 minutes with nothing but your performance is not easy. They each do a wonderful job of creating development in their tone of voice to indicate the aging of their characters, hearing the shifting from youthful expression to the heaviness of voice that comes with aging. This shift is also helped by lighting design (Cian Bryne), which changes as the subjects of the play move into new phases of their shared life. However, I think both performances excelled in act two. The characters have aged into older, complex characters with rich lives, and I think both Cotter and Youlden were able to really sink their teeth into this phase. The program indicates that Cotter and Youlden are partners in life and theatre, and this is evident in their comfortable exchanges of dry wit and exasperation that can only come from a real place, with someone you know very well.
Cotter pulls double duty as director as well. Again, this is not an easy role. I think the nature of this play means that directorial choices are limited to engage with the spirit of the piece. While I think that the play would have benefited from some movement, the sense of intimacy that Cotter is trying to establish is undeniable. With two chairs in front of a white curtain, taking up a fraction of the stage, there is a bareness that feels vulnerable in this choice. Cotter's direction really leaves himself and Youlden nowhere to hide in their delivery.
I don't think that Love Letters has convinced me that theatre isn't in the transitions, but it is a provocative piece of theatre that really made me think about the skill of performance. I give Love Letters 3 forced apology letters to Melissa's mother.