Starting Friday with The Rio headliner magician Penn Jillette and his wife, Emily Jillette, five couples over the next five nights leading up to Valentine’s Day will read “Love Letters” to each other in a production at our new community arts venue The Space.
Some of the performers aren’t reading the A.R. Gurney script in advance, preferring the spontaneity of Mark Shunock’s direction. Others have decided to read “Love Letters” just once. The play was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
A couple sit side by side to read aloud notes, cards and letters that they passed between each other over 50 years discussing dreams and disappointments, victories and defeats and hopes and ambitions.
Showbiz stars such as Polly Bergen and Robert Vaughn, Timothy Hutton and Elizabeth McGovern, Diana Rigg and Martin Sheen, Alan Alda and Candice Bergen and Christopher Reeve and Marsha Mason appeared in Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.
Larry Hagman toured with his “Dallas” co-star Linda Gray and also performed it with his “I Dream of Jeannie” co-star Barbara Eden. Robert Wagner toured it with his wife, Jill St. John, and his “Hart to Hart” co-star, Stefanie Powers.
The most recent tour was with “Love Story” stars Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal in 2015. Translations have been made in Russian, Chinese and Urdu for Indians. Last November, Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, performed it at a Stanford fundraiser.
The play is so emotionally riveting that Judge Lance Ito invited actress Lynn Redgrave and her husband, John Clark, to perform it in the same courtroom where the O.J. Simpson trial was being held for its sequestered jury on their day off.
Elizabeth Taylor once performed it with James Earl Jones and raised $1 million for her AIDS Foundation. Emily told me this morning after reading the script for the first time Wednesday night:
“When I was first asked to do this play, I thought we read our own love letters, and I was very excited to do that. Penn and I started dating in 2003, and, because we dated long distance, we exchanged thousands of emails.
“I think as much as I wanted to read those between us, I was relieved to find out that this performance is scripted. I read it last night for the first time. I was surprised how much I identified with the character Melissa and am so excited to perform this with Penn.
“I had never seen or read the play before, so I hope that I am able to bring my own experiences of travel and relationships to the character. Penn won’t read it in advance to just enjoy the spontaneity of it for the first time tomorrow evening.
“I would be terrified, but I have Penn onstage with me, Mark (Shunock) supporting me and my friends and family in the audience. What could go wrong?”
After Penn and Emily, we have DeLee Torti and her husband, Rob, on Saturday, Josh Strickland and his husband, Todd DuBail, on Sunday, Graham Fenton and his wife, Nicole Kaplan Fenton, on Monday and Clint Holmes and his wife, Kelly Clinton-Holmes, on Valentine’s Day.
The Space is at 3460 Cavaretta Court off Polaris. Tickets are available at TheSpaceLV.com.