Under the open tropical sky of the Mérida English Library garden, a well-loved play was performed off-off-off-very-off Broadway. But “Love Letters” transformed the Mérida stage, into another world.
Nancy Hoag and Michael Catlin, under the direction of Frank W. Wicks, starred as Melissa and Andrew, two well-born WASPs who went their separate ways, but stayed in touch for 50 years. Their letters to each other, read aloud, tell a frequently funny and touching story of hope, joy, astonishment and disappointment.
As in other productions, the stage is simple. Its stars sit behind a table facing the audience. The set is minimal. The emotions run to the max.
“Love Letters” has endured as an off-Broadway stage play since the author, A.R. Gurney, and Holland Taylor unveiled the work as a reading, in the place of a lecture to be called “WASPs at Dinner,” at the New York Public Library in 1988.
After a run at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, the play moved to the Promenade Theatre where its two-person cast rotated among well-respected actors such as Stockard Channing and Richard Thomas.
Ever since, the play has been licensed to numerous theaters, often with interesting pair-ups. Tab Hunter and Joyce DeWitt, Tony Dow (Wally from “Leave it to Beaver”) and Janice Kent (Mary Ellen Cleaver on “The New Leave it to Beaver”), Samantha Bee and Jason Jones (of “The Daily Show” at the time), and Rita Wilson with Tom Hanks.
Today, “Love Letters” is on a world tour with Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, who were co-stars in the similarly named “Love Story” (1970). Their version of the play comes to Britain this September.
Just as the play has seen its performers connect to earlier roles, the same can be seen for the director of the Mérida production.
Wicks mentions that he acted, directed, stage-managed and choreographed at the Long Wharf Theatre in its first two years of existence, starting in 1965 — right where “Love Letters” first found its footing.