A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters” will be the epistolary valentine for Idyllwild from Isis Theatre Company. The first production of 2015, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for drama, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 6 and Saturday, Feb. 7 at the Rainbow Inn.
The first Isis Readers Theatre production of the season is a funny and emotional portrait about the powerful connections of love. It is a lifetime of correspondence between two connected and ill-fated people.
Andrew Makepeace Ladd III wrote his first letter to Melissa Gardner to tell her she looked like a lost princess. They were both 7 years old. For the next 50 years, through personal triumphs and despair, through wars, marriages, children and careers, they poured out the secrets of their hearts to each other.
They defied a fate that schemed to keep them apart, and lived — through letters — for the one most meaningful thing, their undying love for each other.
“Love Letters” was first performed in New York in 1989 and many, many couples have read them. Suzanne Avalon, Isis president and founder, first performed Melissa’s reading in 2005 with Allen Purchis. In this production, Howard Shangraw, very familiar to Isis and Hill audiences, joins her as Andrew.
“The only reason this became a play at all is that my agent and friend Gilbert Parker suggested it might work on stage. I had written it as an epistolary story and proudly sent it off to The New Yorker magazine, which proudly sent it right back, saying, ‘We don’t publish plays.’” Gurney has said.
He also emphasized how simple it is to produce — two actors, minimal stage props. Charles Ishwerwood of the New York Times, wrote, “The play’s means may be economical, but it etches a deep portrait of life’s painful vicissitudes.”
And this is what first attracted Avalon to the script for Isis. “No fancy sets, or lights, just the actors and the script,” she wrote. After learning of its revival this fall in New York, she obtained the rights for Isis and immediately asked Shangraw to join her in the production.
“Howard and I have been close friends for over a decade and we see a lot of ourselves in these characters,” she said.
When asked if it is possible to write a great love email, Stacy Keach, who has read Ladd’-s letters, replied, “Texting is better than email. You have those little figures with hearts and flowers — emoticons.”
Whereas, Mia Farrow answered, “I do think you can — as long as you don’t use emojis.”
While she prefers “a love email … a step up from a love text,” Avalon is sentimentally nostalgic for the traditional letter.
“The beauty of the tangible — the paper and the pen — is the part that lives on forever. Somewhere in cyberspace might be some romantic words that could have been computer generated by an app,” is how Avalon replied to the question.
Some of her tangibles have been saved in a private place and she added, “There is not a flash drive in the world that can replace that hat box of handwritten treasures.”
Shangraw is the former chair of the Theatre Department at Idyllwild Arts Academy and is now director of Theatre and Musical Theatre for ARTS-Ed Plus. Both have appeared in many other productions as well as television and film in Southern California.
Tickets for the performances are $15 and can be purchased online at www.isistheatrecompany.com or at the door of the Rainbow Inn, 54420 S. Circle Dr. A reception at 7 p.m. precedes the raising of the curtain.
“Love Letters” is the weekend before Valentine’s Day, because Shangraw and Avalon chose “to offer a gift before the roses and champagne. No need to compete with Cupid on his special day.”
For more information, call 951-692-9553 or visit the website.