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Celebrating a relationship

``LOVE LETTERS" by A. R. Gurney is a fairly unique and rather imaginative play that reconstructs the lifelong correspondence between Andy and Melissa, who went to school together, whose relationship evolved beyond friendship and sibling bonds and romantic ties into something so complete, that it got taken for granted until too late.

Andrew excelled at Yale and at Harvard Law School and was elected senator. He married Jane, fathered the right number of children and had a dog. Melissa dropped out of schools, became an artist and went where the winds took her. She married twice, lost her children and tried alcohol. From time to time she screamed, ``Help!! Let me out of here." She died. Through 50-odd years they wrote each other. They let no one else enter that world of letters. Husband, wife and achievements faded into mere appendages.

Gurney traces this lifelong correspondence between Andy and Melissa — a lifetime of letters celebrating a relationship, which is as unusual as it is beautiful, as exclusive as it is intimate. Except, that the letter writing is not a linear process. The script explores in real time. Even as a letter is being read the recipient is emoting and the audience can begin their piecing together.

According to Gurney, ``Love Letters" ``needs no theatre, no lengthy rehearsal, no special set, no memorization of lines, and no commitment from its two actors beyond the night of the performance."

That was the easy route that Evam did not opt for. They planned for seven shows running simultaneously at two venues with two different casts. It offered the audience no particular advantage because they got to see only one set of actors anyway.

Where Gurney put his actors in chairs at tables with their scripts in front of them, Evam brought in huge ``three-step chunks" and diminutive stools and the odd cushion and, during the first half, moved the actors through three levels. The movement helped the audience tune in faster and helped the actors use their bodies in addition to their voices to communicate the early years. The latter half had them more or less pinned to their chairs, their speech slower and bodies stiff with age. It was very well done, as was also their use of pauses. Some letters were light-hearted, teasing. Others carried heavy thoughts. Sometimes there were immediate responses and some were not replied to at all.

Performances from both the casts were more or less on par and very good.

They were meticulously rehearsed and both pairs got so totally and emotionally involved in the lives of Andy and Melissa that by the time they reached Andy's last letter after Melissa's death, there were copiously streaming eyes both on stage and in the audience.

One must hand it to the team for taking their audience to that point without the use of melodrama.

Older folks used to actually writing letters (even if they are not love letters) must have enjoyed the play, perhaps even with a touch of nostalgia.

Younger, more keyboard savvy folks must have found in the play a peculiar resonance to their net chats. Karthik Srinivasan and Amrita Kumar and Karthik Kumar and Suchitra Ramadurai were the two pairs that balanced the performances.

Music formed a strong element and the choice of songs helped position the action into particular time periods.

The theme music, played on piano and an African flute, composed specially for the performance by Anil Srinivasan, was worth every haunting note of it. One must also mention the audience's contribution to sounds - the variety of tunes from mobile phones and answering voices in real time at crucial points of the plot were nothing short of irritating (though perhaps not embarrassing enough for the perpetrators).

The execution of lights was sometimes distracting. The fades were jerky and the spots not tight enough. The subsequent shows, one hears, had the problem under control.

However, the moments of silhouette lighting were exquisite. The audience forgave them the minor glitches and the late starts. For the city, Evam's productions have become much-awaited events.

The young group delivers on schedule, gives of its best and makes a special effort to reach out beyond the usual theatre rasikas to the general public for their audience.

What draws the crowds perhaps is the fact that Evam will not embark on a journey of exploring theatre and it genres at the cost of providing quality wholesome entertainment to the city.

They chase every serious production with a light-hearted one. They learn from every production and more from their audience's responses. It is to their credit that they have been invited to participate in the Pritvi Theatre Festival.

ELIZABETH ROY

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