I ran into a close relative, my double in some respects, in A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters” this week.
I picked up a copy of the play, which comes with “The Golden Age” and “What I Did Last Summer,” at BookHampton after seeing a beguiling Hampton Theatre Company production of his “Black Tie” at the Quogue Community House.
“He’s got you WASPS taped,” Mary said as the groom’s father’s teenage daughter was sent out on yet another message-delivering mission to the cheeky bride-to-be on another floor of the Lake George motel, an assignment that prompted her to ask the audience, after gathering her breath, if messengers ever got to kill themselves.
It’s a WASP tradition, at least it’s been my tradition, often not to speak frankly of what matters most — to do “end-arounds,” as I call them, deputizing others to carry my water — or, in the alternative, to write a note or letter when a face-to-face confrontation or phone call is called for — though Mary, who is of a more sanguine nature and less inclined than I toward diffidence, has brought me along wonderfully in this regard: our very rare and resonant differences of opinion having become the stuff of legend.
But back to Andy Ladd III, the letter-loving letter writer in “Love Letters,” it strikes me as tragic that it is only at the play’s end, after Melissa, his reluctant lifetime correspondent, who often urged him to cut himself free from his beloved form (and from his parents’ and class’s constraints as well), has died, that he finally speaks his heart . . . in a letter of condolence to her mother.
One — if one is a WASP, though I’m sure we don’t monopolize reticence or politesse — can become too wary of emotion to speak it plain, too enamored of smoothing things out on the page, more wedded to writing than being.
When we used to visit our family psychologist en masse, and with no little frequency, he would say, hands clasped and smiling, “Ah, the literary Graveses.”
Funny he, a theater lover, didn’t tell me to go see some A.R. Gurney plays, or to read them. Maybe he thought they’d be superfluous. I don’t even need a script!
This is all by way of saying that I, who also was a member of the same frat and secret society as Andy at Yale, escaped his fate, eventually mindful, as Don Quixote said to Sancho (he did, didn’t he?), that “faint heart never won fair lady.”