Presented by Southern Stage Productions
June 9-27 at the Belcourt Theatre, 2102 Belcourt Ave.
Show times: 8 p.m. Wed.-Fri.; 2 & 8 p.m. Sat.; 2 p.m. Sun.
$26, part of proceeds from the Wed. night and Sat. matinee performances will be donated to Belcourt YES!
For information, call 255-9600 or visit http://www.ticketmaster.com.
Some of the world’s most dynamic relationships have come in threes. Think of the Three Musketeers; the Mod Squad; Dick, Jane, and Sally; Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins; Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe. Around Nashville, people may soon begin thinking of O’Neill, Harvey, and Pirkle in the same way.
Under the aegis of Southern Stage Productions, this latest triumvirate has joined together to present A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters at the Belcourt Theatre June 9-27. On the left is Jennifer O’Neill, the drop-dead-gorgeous cover girl who floated into the hearts of millions of American men as Dorothy in the film Summer of ’42. On the right is Alex Harvey, the songwriter who gave birth to ”Delta Dawn“ and ”Reuben James“ before riding off into such motion pictures as Gettysburg and Fire Down Below. And in the middle resides Mac Pirkle, the man who lashed himself to the mast of Tennessee Repertory Theatre for 14 years and has now cut himself loose to freelance as a producer and director.
”All three of us have an express need for each other right now. And that need is spread equally among us,“ Harvey says. ”We’re all kind of wildcatters, in a way. What we all want to do is make an impact so that all this noise about theater in the ’boro will pay off.“
To that end, for the next three weeks, the threesome has reserved Hillsboro Village’s Belcourt Theatre for a slam-attack on the theatrical piece Love Letters. Guided by Gurney’s unique craftsmanship, the two actors spend the entire performance sitting across from each other, reading letters each has each written to the other. Beginning in 1937, with Andy Ladd (Harvey) accepting a birthday invitation from a classmate, Melissa Gardner (O’Neill), they continue to correspond for over 40 years, surviving life’s vagaries, a World War, and their own human frailties.
Explains O’Neill, ”Love Letters is unrequited love. It’s so cathartic and so funny and so bittersweet. It shows the emotions that are visited with these two and how they love each other, but keep missing. Anybody can relate to the relationships we’ve tried and missed and tried and missed as we go through life.“
Although many stagings of Gurney’s play have the two pen pals sitting at a table to read their tomes, director Pirkle has chosen a different tactic. Because the 340-seat Belcourt is so intimate, he has removed the physical barrier of the center table and the actors instead will be seated in a living room with only a low coffee table between them.
”How many times in Nashville do theatergoers have the advantage of seeing actors like Jennifer O’Neill and Alex Harvey in a such an intimate setting, rather than 700 feet away in a 2400-seat theater?“ Pirkle asks. ”Love Letters is as much like living a novel as any play I’ve ever read. You have two people sitting before you, and soon you start plugging in your own cheering section and filling in all the other details about their lives.
”Writing and reading a letter is a very personal act. Generally, we do it in silence. So we have to take what is in real life an internal experience and move it forward in front of an audience.“
Although O’Neill has appeared in 28 feature films, as well as numerous television movies and miniseries, Love Letters is her first foray into live theater. She has spent the past two years penning an autobiography, Surviving Myself, and developing the screenplay for Summer of ’62, her debut film’s sequel, in which Dorothy and Hermie reignite the romance they experienced 20 years earlier.
With Love Letters she is once again exercising her acting muscles, ”exhilarated“ to be appearing before a live audience. Harvey has set his guitar aside for the moment so that he too can dust off his acting chops. And Pirkle returns to launching a small theater troupethis time steering clear of the not-for-profit world and learning the new game of commercial theater.
If the local gig is a success, the three amigos will begin fleshing out plans for a national tour of Love Letters. Their dedication to the show and to each other, it seems, has been sealed with a kiss.
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