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By D. A. Blackburn
Live theater takes on many forms. As a theater critic, I've often been struck by the diversity of the material put forth for public consumption. From exceptional high-dollar productions to minimalist experimental works, sharp-witted modern comedies to classically interpreted Shakespeare, there seems to be a production for nearly every taste. And to be sure, the quality of these productions varies as widely as their subject matter, style and venue, but it's rare - really, really unusual - to find a production that is wholly unpalatable.
Sadly, it does occasionally happen, and such was the case of StarBrite Dinner Theater's production of A. R. Gurney's Love Letters at the Uptown Eatery this past Friday.
It's a simple script in which two performers recite a lifetime's worth of letters, leading the audience from their youths on through adulthood, and charting the less-than-ideal romance that develops.
It sounds simple enough, right? But StarBrite has missed the mark in some critical places. The story is set on a simple stage, consisting entirely of a large desk and two chairs. Our lovebirds, Andy and Melissa, sit side-by-side for two hours, in careful recitation, making for a show that can be called many things, but certainly not visually stimulating.
To compound the problem, Arlene Pollock and Randy Magner, both of whom share directing credits with Rob Papineau on Love Letters seem to have failed in memorizing their script, and literally read from it for much of the production. This is about as unforgivable an offense as one can commit on the stage. In burying their noses in the text, both performers lose any semblance of a connection with the audience, and with each other. And as anyone who has ever tried to read to a crowd can attest, it's easy to lose your place on a page, which both performers did from time to time, disrupting the flow of some of the work's most poignant moments.
It must be said that not all of this work's problems stem from the production. Gurney's script simply isn't that engaging. It tells the story of two generally uninteresting people, struggling through some rather conventional life problems. To be fair to the StarBrite cast, both Pollock and Magner attempt to inject some strong emotional currents into the rather stagnant water of Love Letters' script, but it's not nearly enough to save this drab work.
Uptown will continue showing the work through May, with a rotating cast of 11 players. Perhaps other casts will show a deeper commitment to their craft, and give this show a leg to stand on. Otherwise, it might just be best to limit your love letters to your significant other.
At the Uptown Eatery, 19701 W. 12 Mile Rd., Southfield. Fri.-Sun., through May 18. $39.95/Fri.-Sat.; $36.95/Sun. All prices include three-course meal, show and tax. For information: 248-423-1452 or www.starbriteprod.com.
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