When American playwright A. R. Gurney wrote his Tony-nominated play Love Letters in 1989, he knew it'd be a draw for name-brand actors. That's because the play is in epistolary form, meaning it's constructed as a series of letters in the manner of many 19th-century novels, thus requiring less rehearsal time than other productions. Actors are able to walk in whenever they're available and inhabit the characters, Andrew and Melissa, discovering them together as their romance progresses.
The author's note reads, "This is a play, or rather a sort of play, which needs no theater, no lengthy rehearsal, no special set, no memorization of lines, and no commitment from its two actors beyond the night of performance." Its debut was in the New York City Public Library, where it was performed by Holland Taylor (Two and a Half Men) and Gurney himself. Since then, it's been performed by such celebrity duos as James Earl Jones and Elizabeth Taylor, Jeff Daniels and Sigourney Weaver and Samantha Bee and Jason Jones of The Daily Show.
At Lakewood Playhouse (selected by Weekly Volcano readers as Tacoma's Best Local Theater Group in our 2012 poll), Love Letters will be performed by nine different couples who fell in love in and around theater. The couples range in age "from their early 20s up into the 60s," says managing artistic director John Munn, who's overseeing the project. "They personalize it because of their own relationships."
Jen Davis and Alex Smith perform the first night, set for Friday, Aug. 10.
"We were in The Outfit (Theatre Project) together... in the winter of 2010," says Davis, who joined Smith in a production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. "Though we only shared a minute and a half together, we were incredibly dedicated to that minute," she says with a laugh.
They recently passed their two-year anniversary as a couple.
Michael O'Hara and Sharry O'Hare, on the other hand - and no, that's not a misprint - have been together rather longer. After a whirlwind romance culminating in an Ireland wedding on St. Paddy's Day, they've been married for 22 years. Other participating couples include Samantha Camp and Bruce Story, currently appearing in TAO's visceral Titus Andronicus at Olympia Little Theatre, and Capital Playhouse regulars Jerod and Stephanie Nace, who celebrated the birth of their firstborn Dutch a few months ago.
"I'm going to marry this woman," Jerod thought after their first date. "It just took her four more years to figure it out."
"It's rare to be on stage with someone you love," notes Munn. "Actors are cast in different shows; schedules don't mesh, so to be able to do an hour-and-a-half show with just the two of you, that never happens. This may be the one and only time you'll get to see these couples in a two-person show."
"It's a show I look forward to seeing more than once," he adds. "It's a beautiful script, and the actors make it different every time you see it."
[Lakewood Playhouse, Love Letters, $15, 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. through Aug. 26, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, 253.588.0042