Appropriately timed for Valentine’s Day, the Hayden Liberty Center will present a play that showcases the ups and downs in a couple’s 50-year love story.
“Love Letters” by A.R. Gurney features only two characters, Melissa Gardner played by Deborah Mitchell, of Sedalia, and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III played by Scott Holloway of the Kansas City area. The show is directed by Carl Hutcherson.
The show begins with Melissa and Andrew meeting in childhood, continues through their adolescence and time spent in boarding school as teenagers, then progresses into their adult lives. It starts in 1937 and Mitchell said she’s guessed that Melissa is about 7 when the audience meets her. If the play were to continue into present day, Mitchell said the pair would be in their 90s.
“‘Love Letters’ is about two people over the course of 50 years,” Hutcherson said during a break in rehearsal Monday night. “You see them meet, get to know each other, fall in love, fall out of love, fall back in love, and go through their entire lives through letters.”
Their love story is told solely through letters to each other. Mitchell and Holloway share the stage the entire time but never share any longing glances. Instead, they thoughtfully recite their letters through the years and react when the other is reading.
“It’s a different skill set because we’re reacting with each other and interacting but we don’t look at each other through the course of the show,” Holloway said. “It’s just a lot of listening and reacting.”
“Most people who do theatre will tell you acting is really reacting and this really exemplifies that because you have to react without looking at another person, so basically you’re reacting to what you hear,” Mitchell added. “It’s really different.”
Hutcherson added that each letter itself is a reaction to what was or wasn’t said in the letter preceding it.
Despite the small cast and unique dialogue, the three said the characters are interesting enough to keep the audience engaged. Hutcherson said as the play goes on, the audience wants to know more about these people, their lives, and how they connect with each other. Mitchell said the setting in 1937 in the wealthy Northeast is also intriguing for an audience in rural Missouri in 2020.
“But also within all that, it being a totally different time and totally different circumstances, there’s a lot of universality to the show too,” Holloway said. “They can definitely relate to certain beats in Melissa and Andy’s life and they’ll recognize what’s happening to them.”
“People have the same insecurities, people have the same desires, we’re dealing with the same problems,” Hutcherson added. Even in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” which Hutcherson is directing as a youth show later this spring, commonalities can be found, Hutcherson said.
Hutcherson discovered the show when he saw it about a decade ago. He said he’s spent the last 10 years trying to find the right opportunity to present the show locally.
“The idea that someone’s words and that’s all they have is just the words on paper, touching someone else the way these letters too, it connected,” he said. “It’s a lost art form that I think people need to start writing again.”
He pitched the idea to Mitchell while they were rehearsing last year for “Love, Loss and What I Wore” — he said she agreed before he even finished explaining the proposal. Holloway attended one of Mitchell’s performances and she then pitched the idea to Holloway. “It blossomed from there,” Holloway said, with Hutcherson adding that he could tell at the event the two friends were the “perfect pair for this.”
Aside from Mitchell’s performance in “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” it has been years since either Mitchell or Holloway have been on the Liberty Center stage. For Mitchell, a return to the theatre last year helped her recognize how much she missed acting. For Holloway, it was the opportunity to perform in “Love Letters” with a close friend that drew him back in.
The show also reminds theatre-goers of the art of letter writing, something that is lost in today’s society of texting and emojis. Hutcherson said the show makes viewers want to connect with others through letters.
“It’s really telling in the script how within these letters, it’s mentioned several times that Melissa is more comfortable face to face or on the phone while Andy is always championing for the letters,” Holloway said. “But what and how they reveal themselves to each other, probably more than in any other medium, and what they reveal to each other, the audience is getting those revelations at the same time.”
“Love Letters” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13 and 14 and at 2 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Hayden Liberty Center, 111 W. Fifth St. Tickets are $12 or $10 plus processing fees and includes a glass of champagne. For more information, visit libertycentersedalia.com or call 660-827-3228.