Patrick Spradlin's office at Central Lakes College includes several photos of Coral Stein and Joe Plut from the college's 1995-2001 run of "Love Letters." It's obvious that the play, which Spradlin directed numerous times locally and statewide, is among his favorites.
Local theater fans love it, too, and that's why he'll bring it back Saturday night. But it won't be exactly the same: This time, Spradlin and CLC faculty member Donna Salli will play the famous roles of Andy and Melissa.
"Joe and Coral had a terrific chemistry between them, and then over the next three years, it wouldn't go away. People wanted to see it again and again," Spradlin said of the local "Love Letters" craze. "A businessman in Willmar bought two performances of it and invited all his regular customers to the show. We took it to Blue Cloud Abbey in South Dakota and performed it for a literary festival. When we dedicated the Black Box as the Dryden Theatre, we did a performance of it.
"So it was something that had a real following in the area, and still does, and the reason I thought to bring it back was that people had been asking for it."
Donna Salli and Patrick Spradlin will play Melissa and Andy in a one-night-only staging of "Love Letters" Saturday at Central Lakes College.» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
"Love Letters," written in 1989 by A.R. Gurney, finds Andy and Melissa - 50-somethings who have known each other since second grade - sitting at a table reading letters, cards and missives they had penned to each other through the years. Salli and Spradlin don't go as far back as Melissa and Andy, but the two have been friends since moving to Brainerd months apart in 1991. Spradlin started with CLC Theatre that year and Salli joined husband Bruce Eastman on the English faculty in 1997.
Spradlin said "Love Letters" is "almost like an audiobook, except you're with a group of people who are responding to it. This is a very funny play in places, and a very poignant play in places, when you think of what can happen in two people's lives over 45, 50 years."
The play is special to Salli because she formerly lived in the Boston area, and "Love Letters" deals with a classic New England theme: Andy and Melissa grow up in a boarding-school lifestyle, where children are sent away to expensive schools with high expectations from previous generations on their shoulders.
If you go
-What: "Love Letters."
- When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
- Where: Chalberg Theatre, Central Lakes College, Brainerd.
- Tickets: $10 (adults), $8 (youths/seniors).
-Web site: www.clcmn.edu/theatre.
Salli got a taste of that culture when she worked as a dean's assistant at Harvard.
"It's sort of coming home for me to do the play, even though I'm a Midwesterner, born and bred," said Salli, who is originally from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. "I spent enough time (in New England) to really enjoy how accurate the play is."
Salli acted in two CLC plays in 1993, but didn't return to the stage until a small role in "Talk Radio" in 2006. As a writer who has contributed poetry and creative nonfiction to several regional publications, she usually doesn't have spare time left over for acting.
Salli has read her own writing on stage, but that's not the same as reading "Love Letters," she said.
"It's a little scarier to read someone else's work, because when you're reading your own work, you move immediately into a very comfortable place. You want to say to people, I get it. I understand you. I understand what it's like for you to move through life.' Whereas if I'm interpreting someone else's work, then my interpretation is up for evaluation."
Still, writing and acting have similarities.
"On the stage, you can be anything you want," Salli said. "That's the fun of the stage and the fun of writing, too. In your writing, you get to step into voices that aren't really you."
"Love Letters" might be a bit of an exception to the escapist theory of acting, though. In the original CLC run, people loved Plut and Stein because they were essentially playing themselves. And Spradlin expects his and Salli's personalities will shine through this time around.
"Because it's a read play, I think the actors' own personalities are able to come out," he said. "When you take on the artifice of costuming and lighting and do rehearsals over and over, you are becoming somebody other than yourself in many ways; you can't help it.
"This play says, Just be you.' You don't have an opportunity to be something else. One of the directions Gurney gives is to really listen to one another. When you do that, you can't help but react in some way. But it's not a rehearsed, planned event."
JOHN HANSEN may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5863.
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