'Love Letters' coming to Dorset stage

DORSET -- In the age of texts, emails and social media posts, the very idea of a "love letter" in the old fashioned sense seems so, well ... old fashioned. Almost.

After all, who takes out pen and paper and sends a letter to a "person of interest" anymore? A letter with a stamp on it?

A play coming to the Dorset Playhouse Friday, Feb. 7 will trace the arc of one fictional relationship over a 50 year span through the use of love letters. In a play written by A.R Gurney, and titled "Love Letters," two actors play the roles of a man and a woman who meet and become childhood friends, then stay connected through a long series of letters as they grow into and through adulthood. It plots their successes, failures, dreams, hopes and desires.

The production is a fundraiser for drama students at Long Trail School in Dorset, to help enable a group of them to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland later this year for The Fringe Festival, a world-renowned gathering of theatrical talent. The two members of the cast will be played by Treat Williams, an actor who has played the same role in a Broadway production of "Love Letters," and Jayne Atkinson, a twice-nominated Tony Award actress whose film credits include "Free Willy" and "Syriana."

It will be the first time that Williams, who has forged an impressive acting career that began in the 1970s with a part in the Broadway production of "Hair" and has seen him go on to be nominated for four Golden Globe Awards, two Screen Actor Guild Awards and an Emmy Award, has chosen to deploy his acting talents in a local fundraiser, he said.

"I've done this on Broadway but I'm excited about doing it here," he said in a recent interview. "I think it's great for the kids -- the most important thing is for these kids to have an opportunity to go to Scotland and be exposed to that."

When he was a college student studying acting, he attended the festival, and it was a powerful experience for him to meet and talk shop with the other actors who converged on Edinburgh from around the world, he said.

The play, which premiered in 1988, involves Williams, who plays the role of Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, and Atkinson, portraying a character named Melissa Gardner, sitting on chairs, never looking at each other, reading aloud letters, notes and cards exchanged over the years, beginning when they met in the second grade of elementary school. Andrew goes on to become a successful politician, eventually becoming a U.S. Senator, while Melissa struggles to develop a career as an artist.

They meet, grow up, eventually go their separate ways, but never lose a certain core connection with and for each other.

"We see throughout the play the deep abiding love they have for one another, but it's not a relationship that ever works as a marriage," Williams said. "It's a childhood friendship that grows into a deep abiding friendship and it's basically this connection they have."

The play has been often used as a vehicle for actors, and for fundraisers, because it involves little rehearsal and virtually no memorization of lines. But even if the physical action is relatively static, there is plenty of drama incorporated into it. The actors have to use their voices and gestures to communicate a wide range of emotions across five decades of life; from childhood to retirement age.

And the stripped down set also helps the actors and the audience focus on the elements that make theater a unique experience, Williams said.

"You really delve into the language, which is what plays should be and you have what the heart of the play is," he said. "It's really about language and poetry and what makes theater work well is when the playwright writes something and the actors channel it."

The play will also mark a reuniting of Williams with Atkinson, a British-born actress who grew up in the U.S. and has notched several Broadway and off-Broadway acting credits, along with her work in films and television. Last June, she appeared with Williams in the Berkshire Theatre Group's production of "A Lion in Winter."

This will be Williams' third time doing "Love Letters" -- in addition to acting in the original Broadway production of it he also acted in a production of it in Los Angeles.

There will only be one performance of "Love Letters," which will be staged at the Dorset Playhouse on Cheney Road on Friday, Feb. 7. The curtain rises at 7:30 p.m. To purchase tickets in advance, call the Dorset Playhouse at 802-867-5777.

A champagne reception with Williams and Atkinson will follow the performance.


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