‘Love Letters’ closes at Richmond Community Theatre

Audience engagement a highlight, challenge for co-stars Braddock, Buckner

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

ROCKINGHAM — Though the size of the audience wasn’t as large as some might desire, the level of engagement of those who were in the seats were just what Emily Braddock and Jason Buckner were looking for.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Emily Braddock and Jason Buckner gave the audience their seventh and final performance of "Love Letters" on Saturday at the Richmond Community Theatre.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Emily Braddock and Jason Buckner gave the audience their seventh and final performance of “Love Letters” on Saturday at the Richmond Community Theatre.

That’s what the co-stars of A.R. Guerney Jr.’s “Love Letters” focused on after the seventh and final performance of the 90-minute play on Saturday at Richmond Community Theatre. The play covers the lives of two people, Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, from the time they meet at Melissa’s birthday party to more than 40 years later.

The two are separated for much of that time, and the stories of their lives — an alcohol mother, a sexually abusive stepfather, deaths of family members on both sides, alcohol addiction, school transfers, office promotions and the inevitable affair that becomes embarrassing public knowledge for Ladd, the politician — come through vibrantly as they reminisce over what could have been, and what never could be.

Buckner and Braddock spoke with The Pee Dee Post after the show, in the afterglow of a job well done. As well-wishers congratulated them on their efforts over the last several weeks — auditions were Sept. 8 and Sept. 8 and rehearsals began soon after — they joked about what they’d do with all their upcoming free time.

Though the plot, and sometimes the sexual tension between the two characters, was thicker than mud, it wasn’t the most satisfactory or challenging part of the experience for either actor. Instead, it was the audience itself.

Those who paid to be there were “a very responsive audience,” said Buckner, 38, who performed on stage in Rockingham for the first time since a boy in the Children’s Theatre. “People are laughing, gasping, sighing … that’s something you just couldn’t duplicate (during rehearsals).”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Anyone who watched one of the seven performances of "Love Letters," co-starring Emily Braddock and Jason Buckner, knows what this scene is.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Anyone who watched one of the seven performances of “Love Letters,” co-starring Emily Braddock and Jason Buckner, knows what this scene is.

It becomes problematic when the real-life humans that are on stage want to react to what someone in the audience says. That’s a no-no, both actors said.

“It’s hard to be on stage, but it energizes you,” Buckner said.

It sometimes takes a Herculean effort to not laugh when the crowd laughs, Braddock said. But the alternative is a much more daunting obstacle.

“A silent crowd is a scary crowd,” said the 21-year-old Hamlet woman. “We want that response.”

There are, in amateur theater, a number of things that could go wrong on stage. Inevitably they will, but it’s the job of Braddock and Buckner to downplay, and often downright ignore, any hiccups. The two said they were often successful on that note and gave much of the credit to theater director Shelly Walker.

“She always told us, ‘don’t break character,'” Braddock said. “You just have to keep going.”

Even when, Braddock said, she tripped over the ottoman.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Jason Buckner's facial expressions helped those paying attention to fully grasp the seriousness - or lack thereof - of any situation.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Jason Buckner’s facial expressions helped those paying attention to fully grasp the seriousness – or lack thereof – of any situation.

“I did my best to keep walking, not gasp and make a scene,” she said. “I had to do my best to always be … Melissa.”

Buckner said Walker “taught us not to give any of our secrets” to the audience.

“Mistakes are going to happen,” he said, “and it’s going to be okay.”

He said Walker referred to errors as “happy accidents” that often become “a way to discover something new” about the character or the actor.

“I had a ball,” Buckner said of his on-stage performance. “It was a great, significant challenge but we had a gifted director who managed two unruly people and beat them into submission. She’s awesome.”

Walker’s guidance and reassurance, Buckner said, “made it very easy.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Emily Braddock made the role of Melissa Gardner her own.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Emily Braddock made the role of Melissa Gardner her own.

 

 

 

 

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