Building on the momentum from its first, full-fledged Eastern Sierra stage production – and the overwhelmingly positive reviews and amount of support it received in the process – the Writers Actors Guild of the Eastern Sierra is forging ahead with its next labor of love.
As with its adaptation of “Tuesdays with Morrie” this past winter, WAG is bringing to local stages a popular, if not beloved, piece of work ripe for yet one more exploration of its highly relatable themes.
This time, WAG presents “Love Letters,” an epistolary play about a love story that spans five decades between “two people who cannot live with each other, and who cannot live without each other,” as the poster states. Inyo County theater-lovers will have four opportunities to take in this two-person, two-act production.
Eva Poole-Gilson, who directs, produces and acts in “Love Letters,” describes WAG’s production as “profound” with a “subtle intensity.” It is “a lot of fun” in the beginning then transitions into moments most poignant, she said.
The 90-minute entertainment reveals the relationship between an upper-middle class, East Coast boy and girl who fall in love in elementary school where their courtship begins with notes passed in class. Eventually the star-crossed lovers are separated when they’re sent to non-coed boarding schools, initiating their life journeys on paths which differ and diverge but never really disconnect.
Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III’s highs and lows, near misses and dear encounters are delivered to the audience as soliloquized love letters – missives written during their 50-year love affair during which their souls intertwined even when they were married to others.
“It is a comedy and a tragedy together,” said the play’s director/producer, Poole-Gilson who plays Melissa for three of the six Inyo/Mono performances. “The tragedy is that we don’t realize how fleeting opportunities in life are,” added actor Gail Swain, who plays Melissa for the other three performances.
Though two actors play Melissa, each actor colors the character with her own creative, interpretive choices in pacing, voice inflections and so on. Actor John Louth, who plays Andy, said, “How I present my character doesn’t differ very much. I reply to the letters in the same way.” The characters never interact, “we don’t even look at each other (throughout the play).”
Yin-yang Melissa and Andy have the audience laughing and crying and all always riveted to the minimalist stage setting where nuance, inflection and even the most minute changes in facial expression take center stage, instead of the usual theater fare – action, costume and set changes and casts of characters. In “Love Letters,” it’s all about what Melissa and Andy say – and what they don’t say.
The paradox of the would-be couple is readily identifiable in the makeup of their personalities. Melissa, the more affluent of the two, is a complex, distressed artist, while Andy is a lawyer and a senator and he has “a heavy dose of honor, of duty,” Louth said.
Andy feels a person can best express himself in writing while Melissa prefers to communicate in person.
Andy is dominated by his father while free-spirited Melissa is dominated only by her own personal demons. Melissa, on the other hand, is an artist from “a very dysfunctional family and delves deeply into “booze and drugs” explained Swain.
The entire affair began in 1937 when they wrote their first adolescent love letters to one another in elementary school – “when writing, penmanship and even (one’s) signature was important,” explained Poole-Gilson. This touching play was very well received by Mammoth Lakes‘ Edison Theatre audiences when “Love Letters” played in late August 2011.
And now for a word about the man without whom none of this would be possible, playwright A. R. Gurney, who penned “Love Letters.”
“He is one of my favorite playwrights. This play is deceptively profound … The characters and the play have a lot of flair.” The play has been well-received “all over the world,” said Poole-Gilson.
“Love Letters” premiered off-Broadway, with Kathleen Turner and John Rubinstein in 1989, and ran for 64 performances. A diverse range of actors, from Swoozie Kurtz to Elizabeth Taylor and James Earl Jones to Christopher Walken have brought Melissa and Andy to life. The fact that “Love Letters” has been performed and/or adapted for stages in Monoco, India, Russia and Pakistan, to name a few, speaks to the universal nature of its evocative themes.
Poole-Gilson, Swain and Louth will bring Melissa and Andy to life on Inyo Country stages during four more “Love Letters” performances: Tuesday, June 12 at Inyo Council for the Arts, 137 N. Main St., Bishop; Wednesday, June 13 at the Lone Pine Museum of Film History, 701 S. Main St., Lone Pine; and on Friday, June 15 and Saturday, June 16 at Mill Creek Station, seven miles northwest of Bishop on U.S. 395. All performances begin at 7 p.m.
Call (760) 872-2446 for ticket reservations, which are strongly recommended as seating is limited. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. In keeping with its adult themes, there are brief moments of adult language which may be inappropriate for young children, said Poole-Gilson.
WAG has plans after the “Love Letters” run. WAG will continue to offer a forum for authors to have their novels, plays and poetry read and/or performed privately or in public venues. It is a “creative outlet for writers, local screenwriters, and actors who want to put on small-venue productions. “We’re not afraid to put on things that are controversial. We don’t have rules,” said Louth. WAG strives to “get artists from both (Inyo and Mono) counties together,” said WAG co-founder Poole-Gilson, to help them “do their thing.”
In late August, WAG will meet and is looking for writers who want to showcase their work. It will be open to the public.
“It would be fun to get a play written locally to perform,” said Louth.
Another of WAG’s goals, said Poole-Gilson, is to host an open competition for a play to be produced here with a visiting director and high-school age interns interested in learning about theater production.
The Guild urges anyone interested in submitting work, reading and performing or attending readings to call (760) 872-2446.