By Daniel Skora
He was the heartthrob of Peyton Place and the onscreen lover for the likes of Barbra Streisand and Candice Bergen. She was voted the top box office star in the world in 1972 and co-starred opposite leading men like Robert Mitchum and Kris Kristofferson. Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw were already bright stars when they appeared together in the 1972 blockbuster, “Love Story”. The success of that film and their separate relationships with celebrities arguably more famous than themselves (O’Neal with Farah Fawcett and MacGraw with Steve McQueen, whom she married, assured their places in the halls of American popular culture.
The two are together again and in town, performing “Love Letters” at the Fisher Theatre. Though it’s probably not in the best of taste to comment on the appearance of two actors who were born when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president, they both look great. “Love Letters” is the creation of A. R. Gurney. It tells the story of the relationship between Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III entirely through the letters they have sent each other over the years. Their literary exchanges begin at an early age, and it’s obvious from the start that the two share a fondness for each other.
Their letters continue through boarding school (they both come from wealthy families) and college. As they separately travel the country and the world, Andrew serving in the military and getting himself elected to the U.S. Senate, and Melissa going to art school in Italy and getting married and having children, they rarely see each other physically. Though their relationship even in their mature years often reads like that of two teenagers who are “in like”, their letters indicate they have a deep love and a crucial need for each other.
“Love Letters” is a play that’s become a showcase for an actor and an actress. The production at the Fisher uses the time-honored tradition of having the two performers seated side-by-side at a table reading their letters from the script in front of them. There is hardly any physical interaction between the two, but their expressions at the letters they receive speak volumes.
O’Neal and MacGraw make for a touching pair of letter writers. You would have to be at least in your mid fifties to claim you saw “Love Story” when it first came out, adding another half dozen years if you followed O’Neal when he was mixing it up mixing it up on television with Barbara Parkins and Mia Farrow in Peyton Place. O’Neal and MacGraw have endured, and “Love Letters” is a wonderful show with a great reunion.
“Love Letters” is on tour and in town for a very short run. The show runs through April 17th. Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 1.800.982.2787, online at www.BroadwayinDetroit.com or www.ticketmaster.com and at the Fisher Theatre box office. The Fisher Theatre is located in the Fisher Building at 3011 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit.