Love Letters | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Love Letters

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Charlton Heston may have performed plenty of schlocky larger-than-life roles in Hollywood--Ben-Hur, Moses, John the Baptist--and may be best known these days as a rifle-raising NRA spokesman. But none of this has impaired his ability as an actor. From the moment he walks onstage in this touring production of A.R. Gurney's Love Letters, remarkably fit and energetic for 76, he takes command of the room. And he finds hidden depths, moments of pathos, flashes of insight in Gurney's flyweight play about two friends who spend their lives writing to each other. Heston plays a typical Gurney male--white, Anglo-Saxon, emotionally repressed--and plays him to the hilt. Still, we see glimmers of the man who hurts and grieves beneath his carefully tailored three-piece armor. I'm sure it helps Heston's performance to be paired with his wife of 56 years, Lydia Clarke Heston, who plays his unstable artist correspondent: the two perform together with remarkable ease and chemistry. But it's also true that Heston can communicate more by clearing his throat or squinting than many performers do with long speeches or elaborate body language. I once heard someone say that the measure of an actor is whether he's able to overcome a weak script. By this standard, Heston is a master: in his hands Love Letters is a rich, moving experience. Chicago Center for the Performing Arts, 777 N. Green, 312-327-2000. Through September 23: Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 5 and 9 PM; Sundays, 2 PM. $55-$65.

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