Little Theatre to present story told through letters

Director Cham Trotter says Greenwood Little Theatre’s upcoming production celebrates a dying art — letter writing.

“Love Letters,” a play by A.R. Gurney that features the lifelong correspondence between two childhood friends, opens Thursday evening at the J.M. Whittington Jr. Playhouse.

“This story tells the tale of their lives together through the letters that they wrote to each other,” said Trotter. “They actually got out pen and paper and wrote a letter. Then, put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and mailed it. ... They actually go to the effort of writing the letters in their own handwriting. Every email you get, they all look alike. Individual letters are different. They express the personality, and these people’s personalities and their lives come through the letters.”

The play is about the lives of Andy Ladd and Melissa Gardner. The actors playing the two characters will sit at a table side by side and read aloud letters that Andy and Melissa wrote to each other over the course of about 50 years — from birthday party thank-you notes to summer camp postcards to the ups and downs of their adult lives. The two grew up together and went their separate ways but continued to share confidences.

“Love Letters,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, premiered in 1988 at the New York Public Library. In 1989, it debuted on Broadway and ran for 96 performances.

“When this was performed in New York on Broadway, they used a separate cast — two actors, roughly the same age — for a week, which is eight performances,” said Trotter. “Then, they’d bring in a new cast, and they did that the same way in its revival in about 2010 using multiple casts of actors to perform it, and that’s what we’re doing here.”

Two veteran actors will star in the show as Andy and Melissa each night. The Thursday performance stars Ted and Freda MacIntosh; Friday stars Cham Trotter and Connie Black; Saturday stars David Dallas and Jamie Jacks; and the Sunday matinee stars John and Cheryl Weiss.

“The play is totally read,” said Trotter. “The actors are not to memorize it. You are reading these letters. ... The actors are not reacting. We’re reading. If you read a letter from somebody, it’s a very private thing.”

The show will have an intimate feel as the actors are seated in front of the curtain on the edge of the stage. The atmosphere leads to touching, funny and revealing moments as the two share their lives through letters.

“The audience will get the sense of a story of two people who both came from families of wealth and lives diverged as they went separate ways, but they maintained their relationship,” said Trotter. “I think it’s important that people maintain relationships, even from long distance.”

Trotter said there’s a point in the play where Andy, who’s joined the Navy, is in Japan, and Melissa is in the U.S., and they are still writing letters to each other.

“Their whole lives they kept their continuity with each other through love letters,” he said.

The play has been performed on the Greenwood Little Theatre stage before.

Anthony Herrera, a soap opera star and friend of Celia Emmerich, and Tandy Cronyn, an actress and daughter of Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, gave a one-time performance of “Love Letters” after the play had been on Broadway.

“It was very well received here,” said Trotter.

In 2002, “Love Letters” came back to the Little Theatre. This time it starred Trotter and Debra Atkinson.

“It always gets to me, and I’ve done it a bunch,” said Trotter. “It’s a good show. It had great reviews on Broadway. It was well received and is pretty much beloved by the theater community.”

Trotter said he hopes that the play will touch people and that is will inspire more letter writing.

“I think they will see that letter writing is something that can be rewarding,” he said. “A letter is personal to you, and it can keep relationships going.”

The show is free for current Greenwood Little Theatre members. Tickets for non-members cost $10 for students (age 21 and younger) and $15 for adults. Visit greenwoodlittletheatre.com or call or text (662) 947-1075 to reserve seats.

Alicia Dallas