Shernaz Patel and Rajit Kapoor keep the fire of love burning in the 20-year-old play, Love Letters

It may not be the greatest love stories you’ve read or heard, but it certainly is a great story. The story of two individuals torn apart by fate and their contexts, Love Letters, the Pulitzer prize winning American play by A.R. Gurney, is the journey of two individuals, Andrew Ladd and Melissa Gardner. It is a story of their lives as it unfolds through their exchange of letters for nearly four decades. The play, which has seen translation into Hindi and subsequently in Kannada, Tumhari Amrita and Iti Ninna Amrita, respectively, is a warm and moving narration of the life of two individuals who so intensely wanted to spend their life with each other, but never could.

Rage Productions’ Love Letters, staged at Rangashankara recently, has been running for nearly 20 years and is a masterpiece. With the exceptionally talented Rajit Kapoor and Shernaz Patel playing Andrew and Melissa, the play is like a poem, taking you through the highs and lows of their life in a manner most poignant. The play, which in an oblique sort of way reminds you of the letters between the writers Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, takes you back to the Preface that Hazel Rowley writes for his book Tete-a-tete. “Never for a second did Sartre and Beauvoir, in their relationship with each other stop living as writers. It was a total commitment, every moment of the day. They promised to tell each other “everything” down to the smallest detail. Turning life into narrative was perhaps their most voluptuous pleasure.” Andrew and Melissa, through their hectic letter exchanges, exude a rare fondness, and a caring interest in each other’s day to day activities, down to the last, little detail. Their lives take different trajectories – Andrew tows the safe line and scales heights in his life, while Melissa takes on the turbulences of life with honesty, that’s charming and difficult. The play, through the correspondence of these two people of opposite temperaments, is happy, sad, moving and occasionally funny.

Andrew insists on the enduring quality of letters and begs Melissa to keep writing back to her, while the latter insists on telephone calls, which brings his voice to her. The play, through many such small details takes us to the world outside of Andrew and Melissa’s love and letters – their schooling, career, marriage, divorce -- and through subtle means reveals the complicated nature of human choices and the compromises one makes in the course of it.

Shernaz and Rajit put up stunning performances, organic and effortless. Shernaz plays the feisty Melissa but never loses restraint, and Rajit becomes one with the straight-laced Andrew, quietly exposing his ‘perfect’ life. Stage is minimal and the two actors impart life to these objects and make it part of the play. Nat King Cole’s haunting songs make it dreamy and surreal – almost making it seem like such spiritual closeness is only the stuff of great stories.

Great story indeed, and it’s hardly a surprise that after 20 years, this production by Rage still runs to packed houses.