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Encore For ‘Love Letters’

1.1 love letters IMG_0194 Larry Hagman and Linda Gray, Lynn Redgrave and John Clark, Elizabeth Montgomery and Robert Foxworth comprise some of the actors who have taken on “Love Letters,” a two character play written by A. R. Gurney that is centered on a poignant 50-year correspondence between the fictional characters Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III.

On Friday and Saturday, April 5 and 6, Laguna-based actors Ava Burton and Mark Miller will reprise the play in Laguna’s BC Space Gallery.

Their initial performance served as a fundraiser for the Friendship Shelter last month.

Seated at a table, Burton and Miller read from letters, cards and notes, showing how little moves heartstrings more than reminiscences of a relationship once perhaps romantic, ripened and mellowed over time into friendship.

Even in an age delineated by Tweets and texts, the notion of affection delivered in a stamped, hand-addressed envelope retains its appeal since the play opened on Broadway 24 years ago. The work garnered a Pulitzer Prize nomination, adaptation to television, performances in Europe, Russia and Pakistan and translation into Urdu. The rendition by Elizabeth Taylor and James Earl Jones at an AIDS fundraiser reportedly lured 500 people and $1.5 million.

“The first show was quite overwhelming, funny with laughter and tears,” said Burton who admits to bouts of homesickness for London and Leeds, her birthplace. “I have friends that I have been in touch with since childhood,” said Burton, whose husband, musician-song writer Jason Feddy, accompanied the show.

Burton’s co-star, Miller, is also better known in the community for another role, that of assistant executive director of Friendship Shelter.1.2 loveletters 2 IMG_0219

They had been casting about for a theatrical vehicle and a chance to collaborate, he said. “We worked organically, rehearsing in Ava’s living room setting up transitions of time and mood.” Since actors sit at a table reading the missives, there is no memorizing of lines. “It’s a very well written piece, simple and sweet,” added Burton, a classically trained actress with Shakespearian chops.

For the weekend performances, vocalist April Walsh and pianist Pam Wicks will fill in the silences.

Many will recognize Walsh (no relation to this writer) as the busker whose melodious French chansons and American classics drift across Forest Avenue. “I love the corridor between Forest and the alley behind it since it has the best acoustics, but on weekends the competition for that spot is fierce,” said Walsh, 32, who has been entertaining passersby thereabouts for the last three years.  “I like surprise. People can hear me before they see me,” she said.

Walsh’s material includes “The Best is Yet to Come,” segueing into “Fly Me to the Moon” and ending with “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.”

Feddy, who was unable to keep the weekend commitment, heard Walsh singing and had an epiphany. “We all picked the songs at our first get-together and it sounds as if we have transitioned from an indie romance to a more Nora Ephron-inspired romp,” she said.

Although she has performed at parties, weddings and during Laguna’s annual Fête de la Musique, she prefers busking. “I like being part of the downtown scene,” she said.

The Friendship Shelter’s mission of guiding the homeless towards shelter and self-sufficiency includes an Artists Collective, founded by Miller and Karen Redding, a local psychoanalyst and clinical social worker turned artist. “We conquer discouragement and find ways to hold on to artistic vision,” Redding explained.

Redding, the group’s facilitator, and Miller, along with shelter graduates and collective members Cat Saxon and Darryl Gober, will exhibit their art at BC Space both days.

BC Space is best known for its shows of social and politically motivated art and has produced similarly inspired performances such as “8,” illuminating obstacles facing legalization of gay marriage.

Meanwhile, Burton and Miller are keeping an eye out for their next project. “We want to build an audience and establish our voice,” said Miller.

Come summer, Burton and Feddy will again star in their “Shakespeare in the Park” shows.  They have also collaborated with poet-actor John Gardiner in the production of “Shakespeare’s Fool,” Shakespearian lines set to music by Feddy.

 

Love Letters. 7 p.m. Friday, April 5. 2 p.m. Saturday, April 6. BC Space Gallery, 285 Forest Ave. 949-497-1880

 

Photos by Edgar Obrand

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