The Lewis & Clark Theater Company (LCTC) aims to deliver a message from the heart in honor of Valentine’s Day.
LCTC is set to present the play “Love Letters” by A.R. Gurney on Feb. 11-13 and 19-20 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb 14 and 21 at 2 p.m. at Yankton’s Dakota Theatre. COVID-19 prevention protocols will be implemented for each performance, including required masking, temperature checks and alternating rows of seats.
The poignant drama takes the audience through the 50-year relationship between Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner, who become friends when she invites him to her birthday party.
“The play shows how their friendship and their relationship progress, how their lives progress and how, eventually, their lives take different directions,” the play’s director, Michael Schumacher, told the Press & Dakotan.
The play’s characters are self-described white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASP). They go to private schools and have swimming parties along with all the wealth and opulence associated with that class, he said.
“The male character grows up, goes into the Navy, becomes an attorney —checks off all the boxes — and eventually runs for political office, achieving a high social status,” Schumacher said. “The female character has a rough childhood. She doesn’t ever want for anything material, but is left wanting as far as the emotional. Her mom is wrapped up in relationships and her dad left. So, while rich in finances, she is poor in emotional stability, and that shapes her life.”
Though it’s not the focus of the play, Schumacher said her consequent alcoholism plays a role in how Melissa’s life turns out. If this were a movie, it would probably get a PG 12-13 rating, he said.
“Normally the play is performed by a single couple, reading these letters that start in second grade, going back and forth between Andy and Melissa,” Schumacher said. “But we’ve decided to go a different direction. We have three couples of varying ages representing them through different stages of their lives.”
One couple (Sara Carr and Talen Wallenburg) will play the young Andy and Melissa; the second (Vicki Geiser and Jim Violette)will play them in middle age and the third (Kathy Brown and David Brown) will play an older Andy and Melissa.
“I have three wonderful couples, but our final couple, the older, the more seasoned versions of Andy and Melissa, are a real-life couple who just celebrated their 25th anniversary,” he said. “They’re able to pour so much emotion into it that people will really walk away feeling something.”
The audience’s emotions will run deep on this one, Schumacher added.
“I think people are going to find — in both characters and their lives — something they can latch onto, that they can understand, something they’ve experienced or somebody they know has experienced,” Schumacher said. “Even though it’s based on people that are well off and go to private schools, it’s real-world problems, and I think people will relate to it.”
As a production, it’s a good choice for a pandemic situation, he said.
“This is a play that can be done with a small cast and it requires minimal rehearsal time, because they’re actually reading these letters,” Schumacher said. “So we can minimize the interactions between cast members during the pandemic.”
It’s also a play that Schumacher has wanted to put on for a while.
“It’s an interesting play,” He said. “’Fun’ might not be the right term, but it’s an intriguing play, because it’s all about the dialogue and how the actors and actresses, who are not looking at each other or moving around on stage, interact. It’s all very relatable, quite enjoyable.”
Cast & Crew
Director — Michael Schumacher
Young Melissa — Sara Carr
Young Andy — Talen Wallenburg
Middle Melissa — Vicki Geiser
Middle Andy — Jim Violette
Older Melissa — Kathy Brown
Older Andy — David Brown
Sponsor — Yankton Title Company