Hildebrand directs ‘Love Letters’

Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick
Joyce Hildebrand (center), director emerita of the Madison County Arts Council, puts Stephanie Stephens and Bruce Thompson through their paces in preparation for their Feb. 11 performance of “Love Letters.”

(Posted Jan. 25, 2017)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

“It’s just two people seated with their backs to one another. No props, just the letters. It’s unique, and it’s going to be good.”

That’s how Joyce Hildebrand describes “Love Letters,” the reader’s theater play she is directing for the Madison County Arts Council.

The performance is set for Feb. 11 at Brennan Loft, 158 S. Main St., London. Tickets are $35 each or $60 per couple. The evening starts at 6 p.m. with appetizers and wine, followed by a sit-down dinner at 6:30 and the show at 7:30.

Stage veterans Stephanie Stephens and Bruce Thompson play Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, two people who, despite leading lives that should not intersect, can’t let go of one another over their 50-year friendship.

“The story is told through letters they write to each other from second grade through middle age—crucial highs and lows of life events, birthdays and dreams, failures, success, gossip and weddings, political games and family disaster,” Hildebrand said.

At first, Stephens figured performing a reader’s theater piece would be easy.

“I thought it was going to be a snap—all we have to do is read,” she said. “But you still have to engage the audience. Nobody wants to see the top of your head (as you read). And you have to think about what you do when you are the one listening.”

“There’s a lot of emotion that needs to be conveyed vocally and with facial expression because you don’t get up and move around. You’re seated the whole time,” Thompson said.

The range of emotion ebbs and flows between humor and flirtation, grief and sorrow. Hildebrand isn’t worried about Stephens and Thompson pulling it off.

“They both are skilled in showing expression,” she said.

The duo sought out Hildebrand to serve as their director. Hildebrand is legendary in the local theater scene, with decades of experience leading school and community shows.

“We needed a director, and we wanted to work with the best. It’s so valuable to have another set of eyes. She reminds us when we’re getting static,” Stephens said.

“It really helps that someone with so much experience can offer suggestions,” added Thompson.

The actors themselves come with plenty of experience, too.

Stephens taught and directed shows at London City Schools for many years. She is a regular with the Arts Council, having directed last summer’s production of “The Pajama Game.” She is directing the upcoming production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at Little Theatre Off Broadway in Grove City.

Thompson also is active in Arts Council productions. He played the stage manager in “Our Town,” sang in the annual Sounds of the Season show, and regularly helps to design and build sets.

Others involved in the Arts Council production of “Love Letters” are Shannon Treynor, providing musical accents, and Liz Amling, Sarah Amling and T.J. Dwyer, providing technical assistance.

Proceeds go to Arts Council scholarships for students at Tolles Career and Technical Center and Jonathan Alder, London, Madison-Plains and West Jefferson high schools.

Written by A.R. Gurney, “Love Letters” opened on Broadway in 1989 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Since then, many acclaimed actors have taken their turns as Melissa and Andrew—Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy, Sigourney Weaver and Jeff Daniels, Elizabeth Taylor and James Earl Jones, to name a few. The play includes adult themes and language.

Reservations are due by Feb. 7. Meal choices include lasagna or barbecue chicken breast. Call Wilson Printing & Graphics at (740) 852-5934.

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