Linden, Anderson bring correspondence alive in 'Love Letters'

Letter-writing may seem like a lost art in this text- and Twitter-addicted age.

And the next time Hal Linden does “Love Letters,” A.R. Gurney’s Pulitzer-nominated play, “we’re going to call it ‘Love Emails’ and do it online,” he jokes.

This time, however, Linden and Loni Anderson will perform “Love Letters” the old-fashioned way: live, and in person.

The Emmy-nominated sitcom stalwarts (Linden as “Barney Miller’s” level-headed title police captain, Anderson as “WKRP in Cincinnati’s” brainy bombshell Jennifer Marlowe) team up to perform “Love Letters” Saturday and Sunday in the Suncoast showroom. The play is presented by the Jewish Repertory Theatre of Nevada.

“Love Letters” qualifies as an unusual drama, in Linden’s view.

After all, “there’s no motion, no staging,” he points out in a telephone interview. “There’s nothing theatrical about it.”

Instead, “Love Letters” consists of two actors enacting “a lifelong relationship through the medium of letters,” he explains. “I’m always amazed at how well it reveals the characters.”

The characters in question are two childhood friends — both born to wealth and position — whose epistolary link is first forged through birthday party thank-you notes and postcards from summer camp.

Through the years, they go their separate ways, yet continue to exchange letters (and confidences), maintaining a lifelong connection — even if it’s not the connection they, or audiences, expect.

Linden, who’s now 82, plays Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, whose path leads from Yale to law to politics — with a World War II detour.

Anderson, 67, describes her character Melissa Gardner as “a troubled and flawed character,” one who follows a rockier path through life than her longtime pen friend.

Linden has performed “Love Letters” several times opposite several different actresses — each of whom brought something different to her role, he notes.

“My part is more reactive and kind of straightforward,” Linden explains. “Mine is much more a logical progression,” with Melissa’s character as “the maverick. I meet different mavericks every time I do it.”

Making her “Love Letters” debut (although she’s seen it several times), Anderson says Melissa “reminds me of my mother,” because “after my father died, she took a turn into ‘Who Are You?’ land. I see this in her character. She just loses her way.”

As actors, finding their way through “Love Letters” means “there’s a certain flying without wires here,” Linden comments. “You react to the letters as you get them, immediately, in the moment.”

Adds Anderson, “it’s so individual to the person reading it. The more you read it aloud, the more things you find, in intonation and inflection.”

Beyond that, “the more you read it,” she explains, “the more it becomes like letters you wrote.”

Linden likens performing the play to “kind of like one big rehearsal,” he says. “You listen and you behave.”

For most plays, the actors would be doing exactly that — in rehearsal, each performer adapting to the other’s ideas and moves.

“Here, it’s done right there” on stage, Linden says. “You’re actually watching it happen.”

And feeling it, Anderson adds.

“You get caught up in these two people and you can relate,” she comments. “It’s kind of universal. You’re swept up in the story,” in part because “there’s something special about someone you connected with when you were young.”

She should know.

In 1963, as a Minnesota high school student, Anderson asked singer Bob Flick — a member of the Brothers Four folk group — for his autograph at a movie premiere, she recalls. “He was the one that got away,” Anderson says — at least until the day, 10 years ago, Anderson saw the Brothers Four on a PBS special and called Flick to ask if he’d like to have dinner. He did — and they married five years ago, on the anniversary of their meeting 45 years earlier.

“There’s something special about someone you connected with when you were young,” Anderson comments. “My story is just like everyone else’s.

Telling, and sharing, remains an essential aspect of the actor’s art, says Linden, a Tony-winning Broadway veteran (for 1970’s “The Rothschilds”), who’s been touring in “The Scottsboro Boys,” the final musical from the “Cabaret” and “Chicago” team of John Kander and Fred Ebb.

“You take words from a page and make it flesh,” he says of the performing process. “Living in the moment — that’s the joy of it.”

Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.