Proceeds from production will benefit local families in need
NARRAGANSETT - Theater productions can often be lavish and loud, but in the case of “Love Letters,” a play written by A.R. Gurney in 1988, character and story take center stage. Focusing on the decades-long written correspondence between two would-be lovers, the production comes to Narragansett High School’s Auditorium this weekend. Proceeds from the show will help offset the costs of children in need attending Narragansett Parks and Recreation summer camp.
“Love Letters” first premiered in 1988 at The Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT. A Pultizer Prize finalist that year, the play went on to critical acclaim and a number of both Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, as well as as other interpretations nationally and around the world. The story, told in epistolary form, focuses on the relationship between Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner, revealed through letters the two write to each other from childhood through death. Though a deep connection exists between Andy and Melissa, circumstance prevents them from being together, and each take on their own families and responsibilities. The two, however, remain connected through the correspondence.
The play will feature Rhode Island residents Marc Carver and Dianne Peretti in the two lead roles. Carver has enjoyed a 25-year career acting in film, television and theater, including roles in the Hulu series Castle Rock, as well as the the recent Whitey Bulger biopic “Black Mass” and the upcoming film “I Care A Lot.” Peretti, a retired educator and current reading specialist for the Northern Rhode Island Collaborative (NRIC), a non-profit educational service center providing special education programs and services, began acting in 2016 with “Love Letters,” then benefitting NRIC. The duo of Carver and Peretti perform the play annually as a fundraiser, and this year marks the first time the production has come to Narragansett.
“We were encouraged to do this play, and Marc was gracious enough to let me work with him, and it was the first time I was onstage, but I fell in love with the play,” said Peretti on her first turn as Melissa in 2016. “We’ve done the play about four or five times since then.”
Peretti said her background in education helped develop her skills onstage.
“Teachers are onstage every day they do their job,” she said. “I have had such a wonderful career teaching everything from kindergarten to high school algebra to driver’s education after school. I love this play. I think people can relate to everything in it no matter who you are or where you’ve been.”
While theatrical productions can typically feature an emphasis on production design, or even a musical number here or there, Gurney’s “Love Letters” is classically minimalistic in its approach.
“All we need is the actors, a table and lighting,” said Peretti of the production.
The choice by Gurney is an intentional one in an effort to focus the audience’s attention on the sprawling, lifelong story of Andy and Melissa, who both go on to develop their own successes and failures apart from each other.
“The play is simple and elegant to digest as an audience member,” said Carver. “It never forgets about the talking and the listening and the telling of a story. We don’t have to complicate this story. It’s purposely as spare as possible, and I think that helps us tell the story.”
A particular element of the play that has stood out to both Carver and Peretti is the story’s universal appeal.
“I keep coming to that word ‘simple,’” Carver said. “It’s beautiful and it’s timeless. Of course, it’s set in a time and the two characters are from a very particular background, but their issues are relatable to everybody. It’s about a love and friendship. We all have many kinds of love in our life, and this explores a different kind of love, and it’s not any less deep than the other kind of love we have for our children and our spouses. It’s a really special connection between two people who spend childhood to their older years in contact with each other. They each get something from each other that nobody else in the world can give them and I think every one of us has experience with that.”
“Melissa had this lifelong friendship with Andy, and I’ve had lifelong friends,” added Peretti. “They married other people, they had kids, but they always stayed connected. Melissa is also dealing with all of her own issues - with alcohol, a divorce and this and that. People deal with a lot of demons all of the time. There’s a lot of demons in this character.”
When asked how their interpretations of the story and characters have changed with each of their iterations, Carver and Peretti each spoke to their interpretations of the source material.
“I think I can relate to the character more,” said Peretti on how her approach to the role has evolved with each subsequent performance.
“This is a gem in front of us and it’s up to the performers to uncover this gem,” said Carver. “It is so elegantly written that we come to understand the rhythm of the piece more. I think we’re getting better and better about adjusting ourselves to the rhythm that’s already written into the play.”
Proceeds from the play will benefit the Narragansett Parks and Recreation summer camp program. According to parks and rec director Steve Wright, there are some local families who cannot afford to send their children to the town’s summer camp every year. The town, traditionally, has made accommodations for these parties, and the profits from the play will help offset those costs.
“I have four grandchildren and [when they became old enough to attend summer camp], I started paying attention to the fees,” said Peretti, who owns property in town. “The camp is fabulous, they do fabulous things with the kids, and it’s nice that I can do something to help kids be there.”
“The real thing in life is we’re supposed to help people,” said Carver. “We all have our little niches, our strengths and weaknesses, and it feels good I can use mine to do something positive for children. That’s job one for human beings, to help other human beings.”
“Love Letters” starring Carver and Peretti comes to the Narragansett High School Auditorium, 243 South Pier Road, on Saturday, Aug. 10. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 each, $40 for a VIP meet and greet with the cast, and can be purchased at the door or in person at 170 Clarke Road, Narragansett, RI 02882 or by calling (401) 782-0658.