There couldn’t have been a better way to conclude the two days of the eventful Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) 2016 than Love Letters, a play by A.R. Gurney starring Rehana Sehgol and Imran Aslam. The play was masterfully directed by Hameed Haroon and executed by both the actors.
Beginning on a light note, as the story escalated to its climax and ended in a most dramatic manner, it saw the hall packed with an audience held completely spellbound.
Love Letters is based around childhood friends Andrew Makepeace Ladd III (Imran) and Melissa Gardner (Rehana) whose lifelong correspondence begins with an exchange of birthday cards and notes that continues in form of letters as they grow up over the next 50 years.
The play is a realistic account in which the romantically attached Melissa and Andrew go through contrasting experiences
The play used the epistolary form, where both actors sat side by side at their tables and read the notes, letters and cards in which they discuss personal aspects of their lives such as relationships, rituals, families, dreams, victories, defeats and everyday routines. Being able to pen down their thoughts and share it with one another creates a special bond that brings the characters close over the years, and things gradually reach a point where it generates strong feelings between them.
The chronology of the life events were skillfully depicted through carefully crafted dialogues by the literary giant A.R. Gurney. The story is not a fairytale but a realistic account featuring ups and downs, in which the romantically attached Melissa and Andrew go through contrasting experiences. She drops out of a series of average colleges while he excels at Yale; Melissa gets married while Andrew goes off to war during which he travels around the world; she experiences failures in her career as an artist while he joins Harvard Law School and becomes a successful attorney, gets involved in politics and is eventually elected to the US Senate. Soon Andrew also gets married and has children but by that time Melissa’s marriage falls apart and she is separated from her children by her ex-husband following which she turns to alcohol and gigolos for comfort as Andrew gets busy with his own life. After a while, he visits she and they become involved in a brief affair, but realise that it’s too late for them. Weary of trying to come to terms with the tragedies of her life, Melissa passes away and Andrew is left to try and fill the void.
In the last scene, he writes a letter for Melissa to her mother that Imran read out in the most beautiful manner, leaving the audience teary-eyed, especially as he delivers the final few lines: ‘the thought of never again being able to write to her, to connect to her, to get some signal back from her, fills me with an emptiness which is hard to describe’, ending with ‘I know now that I loved her’.
The heartwarming story could have never come to life without the impeccable portrayal of both characters by Rehana Sehgol and Imran Aslam. Sitting under a halo of spotlights in a pitch-dark hall, both actors used varying tones and most precise expressions to depict the different moods and draw the audience into the lives of Melissa and Andrew from the very beginning.
This heartwarming story could have never come to life without the impeccable portrayal of both characters by Rehana and Imran. Sitting under a halo of spotlights in a pitch-dark hall, both actors used varying tones and most precise expressions to depict the different moods and draw the audience into the lives of Melissa and Andrew from the very beginning.
To further enhance the magical performance, nostalgic musical interludes were played accompanied by black and white photographs projected in the background to depict the different phases of life. The apt choice of the songs made sure that every single music excerpt encapsulates the moods and feelings of the characters. These included timeless classics like Summertime by Ella Fitzgerald and I Wanna be Loved by You by Marylin Monroe, among other favourites such as Why do Fools Fall in Love, My Boy Lollipop, Straighten Up and Fly Right to Are You Lonesome Tonight, creating rare moments along the way.
Love Letters was the finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and has been performed by renowned actors around the globe including Elizabeth Taylor and James Earl Jones, who performed it in December 2007 as part of a fundraising event. It was first performed by A.R. Gurney, the playwright himself, with Holland Taylor at the New York Public Library, after which it opened in 1988 at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, featuring Joanna Gleason and John Rubinstein. This year, the LLF brought the exceptional play to Lahore and it managed to join the list of great performances in the history of Love Letters.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 28th, 2016