Wednesday, February 9, 2005

'Love Letters' sealed by chemistry

Express Staff Writer

Jamey Reynolds and Helen Hudson have found a certain chemistry to their work on "Love Letters." Photo by David N. Seelig

They sit side by side and read letters aloud. The couple have been in each other's lives for 50 years, and through these letters are forever linked by love.

This is the setting and story of A.R. Gurney's 1990 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, "Love Letters."

Featuring valley actors Helen Hudson and Jamey Reynolds, the play is the perfect Valentine season diversion.

"It's not just about falling in love, but keeping it alive, surviving," Hudson said.

countless fascinating acting combinations have played the roles of Melissa and Andy since 1989: From original cast members Colleen Dewhurst and Jason Robards to Elizabeth Montgomery and her husband Robert Foxworth, Lynn Redgrave and then husband John Clark, to Elaine Stritch and Cliff Robertson,.

As a play for couples it's unbeatable.

"It's the combination," Reynolds explained, "The chemistry..." he and Hudson said in unison.

"And it all comes out in the work," continued Reynolds, who is also the director. "We've make each other laugh and cry."

The characters meet when they are children, but are soon separated by schools, marriages to other people and miles. But the infatuation continues through a fair amount of bumpy times all spelled out in the letters they write and receive. Stuffy Andy is always there for flightly, arty Melissa. He's stolid; she's impetuous. He talks a lot about his issues. She'd prefer to use the phone, meet perhaps.

"We're both extremely well cast," Hudson said. "She wants to cut to the chase, get to the point."

"The beauty of the play—the way it's written—is why many people have been able to do it," Reynolds said. "You bring yourself to the role."

"It's not about costumes or scene changes," Hudson said. "You can say it's Melissa and Andy but the truth is you're going to see Helen and Jamey."

A noted singer and performer, Hudson has appeared on and off-Broadway, lived in New York, Los Angeles, Nashville and Seattle. She's in the Guinness World Book of Records for having sung the National Anthem in every professional stadium in the U.S. ESPN did a special on her, as did People magazine, following the story as she traveled the country singing.

Since moving to the valley with her family in late 2001, she has appeared in several plays, including "Agnes of God."

Reynolds, who grew up in New York, has had three theater companies. One was in Munich, Germany, where he lived for 10 years. He was one of the founders of the (now defunct) Michigan Shakespeare Company, and had a mime company in North Carolina. He lived and worked in Los Angeles before moving to the valley three years ago.

"The great thing about being an adult actor is that we're ready to act," he said laughing. "We have nothing to hold back." His plans for the near future are to start a new company, tentatively called the Classic Theatre Company. "My training is in Shakespeare, and I want to do things that involve education."

Meanwhile, there are many parallels between character and portrayer.

"There's not a chapter in the thing about Melissa that hasn't happened to me, too," Hudson said. "Andy chastises Melissa for putting tennis balls in her sports bra (while playing). I've been doing that for years. That really threw me."

Indeed, as Reynolds describes at length his acting style versus Hudson's more spontaneous behavior, it feels as though they are living out pieces of the play. He is pedantic, while she struggles, gently, to encourage him to move on. Then they both breathe. Reynolds has the last word anyway.

"It's a story about two people just jammin', having a good time. It's sugar coating on the play."


The Royal Larkspur Play Troupe presents "Love Letters" Friday through Sunday, Feb. 18, 19 and 20 at nexStage Theatre in Ketchum.

There is a musical program at 7 p.m. with curtain at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 for reserved seating or $15 for general seating. Purchase tickets in advance at 726-4TKS.

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