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‘Love Letters’ captures the spirit of Valentine’s Day

You’d be hard-pressed to find a play more static than A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters.”

Basically, it’s a pair of actors on stage reading to each other for two hours.

But what it lacks in physical movement “Love Letters” more than makes up for with emotional action.

The play, which chronicles a 50-year relationship and sometime romance between troubled rich girl Melissa Gardner and the ambitious “liberal Republican” Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, is being staged at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts by the Thingamajig Theatre Company.

Over the course of five performances, five pairs of actors, all of them married, will play the roles on individual nights. The cast in order of appearance features Brooks and Blue Lindner, Tim and Laura Moore, John and Sandy Applegate, Will and Christie Spears and concludes with Bob and Bonnie Hite performing on Valentine’s Day.

While all the actors are very good, the real star is Gurney’s script. With laugh-out-loud lines and an ending that will squeeze tears out of all but the stoniest hearts, it would take two pretty poor readers to bring “Love Letters” to its knees.

The set is exceedingly simple. There are two small tables with little podiums on which the actors place their scripts. A couple of glasses of water and table props reflecting the personality traits of Andy and Melissa. That’s it. The rest is up to the actors and the words.

The first act covers Melissa and Andy’s youth. They meet in second grade, start a correspondence when they’re sent off to boarding school and continue it once they’re at college.

Some halting attempts are made at romance, but they tend to go badly, sometimes hilariously so. The timing is never quite right, and much of the time Andy seems to be stuck in the friend zone.

Nevertheless, their correspondence is passionate, if not overly romantic, with Melissa complaining about her crazy alcoholic of a mother and her hated stepfather (who bears the rather perfect name of Hooper McPhail) while Andy rationalizes following the path dictated by his father. (“You’re a victim of your parents sometimes,” Melissa tells him at one point.)

After one attempt at becoming a couple fails in more boring than spectacular fashion, Melissa observes that “all of this letter writing has messed us up.”

In other words, they’re only close when writing back and forth. Face to face, they’re at loose ends.

That all changes in the second act, which blows through young adulthood and then marriages, kids, rehab, careers and middle age.

Melissa is the one who keeps it real, excoriating Andy after she receives a Christmas form letter updating everyone on his family (the kind parodied by the likes of David Sedaris and others). He knows he’s a bit of a phony, except to her, he isn’t. It’s one of those situations where what they lack in themselves they find in each other.

At one point, Andy observes that, “Letters are a way of presenting yourself in the best possible light.”

That’s more or less what Gurney has done with these two deeply flawed characters. They’re human. They’re us, and that’s why we can’t help but love them.

Even so, the timing’s still never right. Their lives take very different paths but they never lose touch, and as the play builds toward a tragic ending “Love Letters” takes on a decidedly bittersweet flavor.

“Love Letters,” presented by the Thingamajig Theatre Company, plays Feb. 10-14 at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts and is appropriate for ages 13 plus.

Ticket and show times can be found at www.pagosacenter.org or by calling 731-SHOW.

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