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Love Letters at Olympia Little Theatre

Real actors and real couples relive a life through letters

Sharry O’Hare and Micheal O’Hara in Love Letters. Photo courtesy Lakewood Playhouse

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Love Letters by A. R. Gurney presents 50 years in the life of a loving couple, Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, as seen through letters they wrote to each other beginning in the second grade and continuing until maturity. Traditionally, the play has been presented with different actors playing the parts on alternating evenings. On Broadway, it has been done by Jason Robards, Stockard Channing, Swoosie Kurtz, Christopher Walken, Carol Burnett, Alan Alda and others. At Olympia Little Theatre, Love Letters will be performed as a staged reading with a different actor couple in each performance.

This production is being mounted in honor of long-time OLT director Kathryn Beall. Before her death, Beall suggested pairs of actors with whom she had worked or knew to perform this play, and every one of them agreed to act in the production. Some of the actors are real-life couples, others are friends who have worked together. They are:

June 16:  Susan and Jim Patrick; June 17:  BarbaraAnn Smith and Larry Bonner; June 18:  Ingrid Pharris Goebel and Tim Goebel; June 22:  Andrea Weston-Smart and Jack House; June 23:  Sharry O'Hare and Micheal O'Hara; June 24: Jean Kivi Thomas and Jess Thomas; June 25: Chris and Heather Cantrell; June 29: Cameron Waters and Cori DeVerse; June 30:  Robert McConkey and Silva Goetz; July 1:  Jeff Hirschberg and Anita Pirkle; July 2:  Michael and Heather Christopher. Two of the married couples, the Christophers and Goebels, first met when performing at OLT.

When O'Hare and O'Hara played Melissa and Andrew five years ago, critic Michael Dresdner called their performance "a complete tour de force." O'Hare, who has done the play nine times, says, "Throughout the years we have been so fortunate to re-visit Love Letters and bring these characters to life.  For us, the reading of the letters must be accompanied by the ability to fill in the blanks for the audience to experience who these two friends are beyond the written word. Our greatest challenge is to project what is felt but not said in 50 years of letter writing and making sure that each letter is spoken with spontaneity and freshness as if reading for the first time."

Heather Chistopher said, "This project is special to Michael and me because we met and eventually married at OLT. After reading the script and connecting with the material, we are both really looking forward to our closing matinee performance."

At Olympia Little Theatre, directing chores are split between Toni Holm and Jim Patrick. "I look at my role as facilitating their performances in honor of Kathryn, and trying to make sure nothing goes off the rails technically," Holm said. "The set, lighting and script will be the same each night, but the performances should all be different. I think the result will be 11 lovely interpretations of the play. I've had rehearsals of five of my six pairs, and it's been fascinating to see where each comes from and where they go with this very nuanced play. I can see why so many actors want to do it and why audiences love seeing different actors interpreting the role."

Patrick said, "The playwright was very specific about the dos and don'ts in producing Love Letters, no curtain, no music before house lights dim, entrances, no baby talk, no mugging, avoid crying and don't mess around with the text." Gurney said, "Trust what I wrote, perform it as written, and all will be well." And Patrick says amen to that.

It is advisable to see it not just once but as many times as possible.

Love Letters, 7:25 p.m., Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m., Sunday, through July 2, $11-$15, tickets available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., Olympia, Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia, 360.786.9484, olympialittletheater.org

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