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'Love Letters': Brian Dennehy, Mia Farrow dazzle in Gurney's 'simple' play

'Love Letters' on Broadway, starring Brian Dennehy and

'Love Letters' on Broadway, starring Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow. Credit: Carol Rosegg

When A.R. Gurney wrote "Love Letters" in 1989, he had no way of knowing that letters and penmanship and maybe even paper would be pushed into history by 140-character computer quips and smiley-face emoticons.

So there is a bit of undeniable wistfulness in the Broadway return of "Love Letters," the 1990 Pulitzer finalist and old-fashioned money machine, which is being revived on Broadway with monthlong runs of celebrity casts.

But this turns out to be anything but a middlebrow, star-driven gimmick of nostalgia marketing. At least that's true with the inaugural pairing of the phenomenal Mia Farrow and the touchingly solid Brian Dennehy in director Gregory Mosher's minimal, subtle production. With only two characters, this deceptively simple piece, for all its familiarity, is a beguiling and wrenching kaleidoscope of real emotions.

Most everyone knows the setup. The two actors sit at a table -- this time, a heavy library table -- and read 50 years of correspondence between WASP blue bloods. Despite a program credit for a costume designer, the actors wear what appear to be their street clothes. Set designer John Lee Beatty surrounds the table with maybe a half dozen single bulbs that suggest theatrical ghost lights.

And that's it, except for the way Gurney creates two fully formed people from letters they've written to each other since second grade. They drop in and out of one another's lives and loves, realizing too late the power of missed opportunities.

Dennehy, who pairs off with a very different Carol Burnett when Farrow leaves Oct. 10, has a poignant vulnerability as Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, the responsible one who loves writing and who never dared displease others to fulfill his own desires.

But what a range of emotions Farrow portrays as she simply sits reading behind the desk. If you are among the fortunate few who saw her opposite Uta Hagen in a single unforgettable reading of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" in 1999 or as a suicidal woman in a brief Off-Broadway run of "Fran's Bed" in 2005, her preternatural effectiveness will not be a surprise.

To anyone who knows her from movies, romantic scandals or international activism, however, this is bound to be a revelation. As Melissa Gardner, Farrow somehow transforms from bright, petulant, rich girl to restless woman and disturbed loner with little more than a squint or a bray or a flick of her long, fuzzy, golden hair. It is hard to believe she has not spent her life on the New York stage.

WHAT "Love Letters"

WHERE Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St.

INFO $52-$127; 877-250-2929

BOTTOM LINE Opening of "Love Letters" sends strong message.

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