The first play produced under strict new edicts from the management of McLean's Alden Theatre is up and running. The rules require theater companies to sell a predetermined number of tickets and assign a fixed percentage of roles to McLean residents.
McLean Theatre Alliance is staging A.R. Gurney's "Love Letters," and it certainly has followed the rules. The cast, which changes for each performance, is all from McLean. Of course, with a two-person play, that's not hard to do.
Unfortunately, theatergoers apparently are not attracted to a bare-bones show performed mostly by people with no acting experience: The audience Saturday was the smallest this reviewer has seen for an MTA production.
That's too bad, because Susan and David Kahn, the stage-experienced couple who are the group's president and artistic director, respectively, did an enjoyable job of reading the half-century's worth of letters between two members of the fading WASP establishment that Gurney chronicles: sedate, dedicated lawyer Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and lifelong love interest Melissa Gardner, a vivacious but unstable artist.
"Love Letters" is usually staged as a stunt, often by a B-list married acting couple who are "between projects," as they say, and hope to rake in some quick cash with a play that requires no preparation. Or the play is put on by a local theater company that fills its only props -- two chairs behind writing desks -- with a variety of people in the hope that it will attract attention.
MTA has opted for Plan B, plopping McLean residents onto the stage despite the fact that most have never acted. The play does not require memorization of its two hours of script; the performers simply sit still and read the letters. (Yes, it makes better radio than theater.)
But that doesn't mean acting talent is not required. The parts call for actors who can "age" voices from youngsters to middle-age people. And they need to create an energy current that matches the ebb and flow of the characters' lives while not being allowed to look at each other.
Even experienced thespians usually find it a challenge to keep the audience from getting restless. Some folks did head for the exits early on Saturday, so one can only guess how novices will do.
If you're basing your decision on whether to go on which neighbors it might be fun to watch struggle, here is the list of the remaining performances:
Tomorrow: Bob Rosenbaum and Toni MacAulay. Saturday: Don and Peg Huff. Sunday: James and Carla Scopeletis (they are veteran actors). Oct. 21: Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax) and Carole Herrick. Oct. 22: Paul and Barbie Frank.
As of late September, the McLean Theatre Alliance had no shows announced for its calendar beyond "Love Letters." Now the playbill for that play has a notice that the next production will be the musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," scheduled to open Feb. 4.
The reasons that MTA chose this greatly over-performed show probably have little to do with artistic ambitions. One imagines parents dragging carloads of restless kids to the theater, thus filling the seats as mandated by the Alden Theatre. Plus the show, even with recent revisions, requires only minimal sets and a small cast, making it easier to fill roles with McLean residents.
So, on behalf of theatergoers seeking new and interesting material, even for children, let me say, "Thanks again for meddling, Alden Theatre!"
"Love Letters" continues through Oct. 22 at the McLean Community Center, 1234 Ingleside Ave. Showtime is 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. for the matinee this Sunday. Tickets are available at the McLean Community Center box office or by calling Ticketmaster at 703-573-7328. For information, call 703-790-0128 or visit www.mcleantheatrealliance.org.