It’s said, through advice columns, self-help books, and many (many, many) romantic comedies, that the most important aspect in a relationship is communication. In the Not Another Theater Company’s double feature of plays, “Love Letters” and “You’ve Got Hate Mail,” in light of Cupid day, that sentiment rings especially true.
The first half of the evening was dedicated to “Love Letters,” by AR. Gurney, which was a Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist.
The play is a series of letters exchanged between Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III. It details their 50-year relationship. And while it’s obvious to the audience that they are soul mates, being more honest to each other through letters than they are to the other people around them, the relationship never heads towards that juncture. It’s a bittersweet and simple movement.
Real life husband and wife Dan Stevens and Nora O’Dea played the lovers. They alternate the roles with another real-life, local couple, Mark English and Cathy Greer-English.
O’Dea sensitively and subtly captures the different aspects of Melissa’s personality as she grows up, from precocious child to bohemian woman. Stevens compliments her well as the more rigid, more traditional Andrew. When the character finally lays his emotions bare at the end of the play, it’s a cathartic experience.
There was some line flubbing, which is strange given that the actors were reading from letters. Though the play need not be completely memorized, a bit more streamlining would be welcomed.
Despite that, the production is simple, effective and poignantly romantic.
After intermission, and a quick set change, the show then shifted to “You’ve Got Hate Mail,” where e-mails have taken over the role of letters as the premiere method of correspondence. And like the love letters of the past age, e-mails may not always convey the entire truth.
Billy Van Zandt and Jane Millmore’s “You’ve Got Hate Mail,” was written as a comical response to Gurney’s “Love Letters.” Placing the two together in one evening made sense, giving a nice dose of comedy after the first play's dramatic ending.
In "Hate Mail," the written word is used as a method of deception, a source of truth, and sometimes even revenge.
Its set, with bare office tables at the center, has five people typing away in front of their computers (and occasionally via their phones). As their e-mails are read aloud, it become clear that one character, Richard (Navroz Dabu), is cheating on his wife, Stephanie (Crystal Roupas), with the secretary, Wanda (Binaifer Dabu). Pamela Hipius and Dustin M. Czarny act as sidekicks Peg and George, giving a dose of witticism to the proceedings.
On the outset, it takes a moment to believe that Dabu’s Richard could possibly be married to Roupa’s Stephanie, only because the age gap between the two looks a bit high to be believable. But that moment of suspension of disbelief aside, the cast personify their character tropes well.
Czarny is particularly hilarious as Richard's wingman George, who has a penchant for nude photos of Hillary Clinton (do those even exist?): a joke that did not get old, even though it was repeated again and again.
The ending does seem a bit unbelievable and the tirade runs a bit stale after a while, but the jokes come at such a fast pace – and a bit on the raunchy side – that such story issues are forgiven.
In the evening's program, Artistic Director Dustin M. Czarny wrote that he could not make a decision as to which play to do for Valentine's Day, so he did both. This combination was ingenious and also illuminating of relationships.
It highlighted that relationships between men and women have not changed much from the olden days to now. The affair is rife with misunderstandings and misconstrued sentences, especially when talking with each other is not an option or, as in this age, too personal.
Then there is also an unsettling realization – especially in this age of texting and Facebook – that no matter the amount of lovely words exchanged electronically or by pen, there is still no substitute for face-to-face contact.
When: Feb. 11-19
Where: Fire & Ice Banquet Facilities
528 Hiawatha Blvd. E. Syracuse, NY 13208
How: Dinner and show: $29, Show only: $20