When Andrew Makepeace Ladd III accepts an invitation to Melissa Gardner’s birthday party, and Melissa writes a thank-you note to ask just why he got her “The Lost Princess of Oz” (answer: she looks like a lost princess), a romantic friendship and correspondence destined to last for almost half a century is born. Both from affluent, East Coast families -- Melissa has more money, but Andy has better parents -- the friends communicate with each other through angst-ridden boarding school experiences, European adventures, failed marriages, and the ups and downs of career. Over the course of their lives, Andy and Melissa’s relationship goes through many changes, as the sometimes-sweethearts/sometimes-friends go through periods of estrangement, and the intense, clandestine affair which will accelerate Melissa’s emotional breakdown. Despite the painful differences which will ultimately tear them apart, they remain each other’s most trusted confidante, and are “true lovers” on paper, if not on the earth. A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters is a tender, tragi-comic, and nuanced examination of the shared nostalgia, missed opportunities, and deep closeness of two lifelong, complicated friends. While spanning five decades and numerous locations, it is staged simply, with two actors behind desks or sitting in cozy chairs, letting their words describe a world of emotion.
ANDREW MAKEPEACE LADD III
Late 40s - 50s, East Coast accent. Andrew Makepeace Ladd the III is born to wealth and privilege in New England. He is a nice, well-mannered “good boy,” athletic and book smart, eager to please his demanding father, who grows into an intelligent and well-respected man, solid father and grandfather, and scholar, lawyer, and politician, who is described as a “stalwart upright servant of the people.” Despite high parental expectations, Andy has a functional family and a happy childhood. He is thoughtful and introspective, with a deep love for writing, especially in correspondence, where he feels free to be his best and most appropriate self to whomever he happens to be writing. He reveals a sensitive side in his letters. Andy’s primary correspondent is the defining relationship of his life, the deep and complicated friendship he shares with Melissa Gardner, a neighbor, and daughter of even wealthier family friends.
They correspond from the 1930s through the early 1980s. Their connection begins as childhood sweethearts, and as they get older, they settle into an uneasy romantic friendship. Andy is the more attracted of the two, and gets incredibly jealous of the other boys in Melissa’s life, particularly as, much to his alarm, Melissa shows signs of being a wild “fast” girl, and though she might make out with him at a party, refuses to care for Andy in the same way. The timing is never quite right for these two, and the balance of power ultimately shifts when, decades later, divorced, unstable Melissa and married Andy begin an affair, which Andy ends, for fear that his political career will suffer. Andy tries to act with decency, but the truth may be that, finally satisfying a 40-year longing, he is more easily able to let go of Melissa than she is of him. As a friend, however, he is still deeply attached, and after her untimely death, says that she was “at the heart of his life,” and that he counted on her to keep him genuine, and voice the rebellious thoughts which he never dared express.
Late 40s - 50s, East Coast accent. Melissa Gardner is a daughter of wealth and privilege, born into a prominent New England family. She is an artistic, strong-minded, rebellious young woman, creative, talented, and sexually adventurous, who grows into a troubled addict, an unhappy woman with a failed marriage and two children who do not speak to her, who calls herself a “boozed out, cynical, lascivious old broad.” As a girl, Melissa is smart, if not studious, attractive and compelling, vibrant in her desire for life and adventure, but she is deeply troubled by family unhappiness. Traumatized by her parent’s divorce, a sexually abusive stepfather, and an alcoholic mother, she expresses her pain with delinquent behavior that gets her kicked out of numerous fine boarding schools and colleges during a checkered academic career. The most important relationship in Melissa’s life is her complicated friendship with Andy Ladd, a neighbor and son of family friends, from a much happier if not quite so wealthy family.
They begin as childhood sweethearts, but as they grow up, Melissa finds Andy’s “good boy” behavior frustrating, and his very familiarity unappealing, although she is willing to make out with him at a party just for fun. The timing is never right for their romance until many years have passed, when divorced Melissa and “happily” married Andy enjoy a brief, intense affair, leading the balance of power to shift in Andy’s favor and, when he ends the physical relationship due to fears for his political career, leaving Melissa devastated, a state from which she never quite recovers, dying only a few years later in either a mental institution or a detox center. Melissa and Andy’s relationship is carried out primarily through a 50-year correspondence, and from the beginning Melissa distrusts this form of communication, preferring to draw a picture, or talk on the phone. She blames their letter-writing for the fact that she is not attracted to Andy when they are teens, saying that he is too familiar, like a friend or a brother. A friend or a brother is definitely what vulnerable young Melissa needs, and she relies on Andy, and his sane family, as anchors in her unhappy youth. Though she dislikes letter writing, and her compositions are shorter and not as well-crafted as Andy’s enthusiastic or poetic missives, she is honest and energetic in her expressions, displaying a compelling personality.