Oh those pesky first heartbreaking loves. How they haunt us.
Stop right this minute and say the name of your first love. Just do it. And then reach back further and think of the one when you were little who kind of stole your heart before you knew you had one. Yep – that’s the person right there. Second grade perhaps? That would be just about the age when Melissa and Andy met, back in second grade in 1937. First there was the formal invitation to the birthday party with the obligatory hand written acceptance. Thus began the journey.
Andy (Brian Dennehy) and Melissa (Mia Farrow) fall into this mode of communication and stay there for over 50 years. Once again it is due to circumstance – long distance calls were stunted affairs decended from the telegram. Hello. Emergency. Hospital. Come soon. OR Arriving tomorrow. Noon train. Back in the day the only place that a person was allowed to luxuriate in words was on paper. Even in person (these are WASPS after all) the words were held to a minimum as though a person might run out of them. They were rationed.
As well these two were torn asunder by parents who shipped them off to private schools, private camps, private colleges. And still the letters connected them. Soon it was their way of being private to avoid parents listening on the phone.
As Andy becomes more stable and locked into the right sort of life, Melissa slowly falls apart. Her parents divorce and her family is disjointed and a disappointment. Her marriages fall apart, she is forced into rehab and loses custody of her girls. Flits from place to place. Takes lovers and tries to lose herself in her artwork.
Andy makes the slow steady climb, with a stable family life (appearances?) and a dog, all the way to the Senate.
When life gives Melissa and Andy the opportunity to cross paths, they jump at it, and the fire that has been glowing bursts like fireworks. Reality appear on the scene to claim them, however, and choices made are obligations kept, no matter the heart ache that goes into them.
Mia Farrow is delicious as Melissa at all ages. Her young child is a frisky thing so earnest she snatches at your heart before you have a chance to cover it. She fights her descent like a child being dragged off a playground. Dennehy catches up to himself as Andy becomes a young man, and pretty much stays in that mode for the duration. But it is not a bad choice for this character.
There is no mention of any war, which is odd, or pretty much anything in the outside world which is even more odd. And of course the casting for the next few months will be all white actors – no affluent folks of any other color living in New York in the 1930’s I guess. And I don’t envy the people in the mezzanine or balcony who don’t see these two faces as the actors sit at a table and never look anywhere but straight ahead.
Details. Details. Details. Because it is still, in the end, a conversation of two hearts that connected early enough in life that their root system intertwined. They remained that way – never loving another person the way they loved each other.
Life’s magic pageantry indeed.
By A. R. Gurney; directed by Gregory Mosher; sets by John Lee Beatty; costumes by Jane Greenwood; lighting by Peter Kaczorowski; sound by Scott Lehrer; technical supervision by Hudson Theatrical Associates; production stage manager, Matthew Farrell; company manager, Elizabeth M. Talmadge; associate producers, Jonathan Demar and Jeffrey Solis; general manager, Peter Bogyo. Presented by Nelle Nugent, Barbara Broccoli, Frederick Zollo, Olympus Theatricals, Michael G. Wilson, Lou Spisto, Colleen Camp, Postmark Entertainment Group, Judith Ann Abrams/Pat Flicker Addiss and Kenneth Teaton, in association with Jon Bierman, Daniel Frishwasser, Elliott Masie, Mai Nguyen, Paige Patel and Scott Lane/Joseph Sirola. At the Brooks Atkinson Theater, 256 West 47th Street, Manhattan, 800-982-2787, ticketmaster.com. Through Feb. 1. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.
WITH: Brian Dennehy (Andrew Makepeace Ladd III) and Mia Farrow (Melissa Gardner).