Shakespeare company takes on 'Love Letters'

What Cheer Shakespeare theatre company will be presenting 'Love Letters' at Mount Hope Farm, this weekend

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 2/7/20

Just in time for Valentine's Day, What Cheer Shakespeare will be presenting Love Letters, Starring Tom Zupicich and Eric Behr as Andrew Makepeace Ladd III; and Gabrielle Sanchez and Mary Paolino as …

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Shakespeare company takes on 'Love Letters'

What Cheer Shakespeare theatre company will be presenting 'Love Letters' at Mount Hope Farm, this weekend

Posted

Just in time for Valentine's Day, What Cheer Shakespeare will be presenting Love Letters, Starring Tom Zupicich and Eric Behr as Andrew Makepeace Ladd III; and Gabrielle Sanchez and Mary Paolino as Melissa Gardner. Written by A.R. Gurney, Love Letters was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in drama, and is a favorite of actors and audiences alike.

The play is performed  in a "reader's theater" style, as each character reads his/her letters. "We're doing something a little different, with a young couple in act one and the older couple in act two," said director Joseph Wallace. "The story covers about 30 years time between the two." Veteran actors Eric Behr, who has been acting locally since the mid-1960's, and Mary Paolino, who also has many local stage and small screen credits to her name, are the older couple, while Tom Zupicich and Gabrielle Sanchez, both more recent graduates of local screenwriting and theater programs, star as the couple in their younger years.

Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner, both born to wealth and position, are childhood friends whose lifelong correspondence begins with birthday party thank-you notes and summer camp postcards. Romantically attached, they continue to exchange letters through the boarding school and college years. Andy goes on to excel at Yale and law school, while Melissa flunks out of a series of good schools. While Andy is off at war Melissa marries, but her attachment to Andy remains strong and she continues to keep in touch as he marries, becomes a successful attorney, gets involved in politics and, eventually, is elected to the U.S. Senate. Meanwhile, her marriage in tatters, Melissa dabbles in art and gigolos, drinks more than she should, and becomes estranged from her children. Eventually she and Andy do become involved in a brief affair, but it is really too late for both of them. However Andy's last letter, makes it eloquently clear how much they really meant, and gave to, each other over the years — physically apart, perhaps, but spiritually as close as only true lovers can be.

It's a bit of a departure for What Cheer Shakespeare which, as Rhode Island's longest continually-operating Shakespeare company, tends to favor plays by the Bard. Mr. Wallace cofounded the company, along with
Karen Valcourt, 18 years ago.

Given the constraints of sharing space with Mount Hope Farm's busy events calendar, the set is spare, as are all of What Cheer's productions. "We have to be very mobile; we're their guests. We need to set up and take down easily," said Mr. Wallace, who also teaches English and Theater at Cranston East High School.

When they started, What Cheer was performing at a lot of vineyards, including Sakonnet, Westport River, and Newport. Now they are staging 3-4 productions a year at Mount Hope Farm, including plans to perform The Gentleman of Verona in May, and Comedy of Errors outdoors over the summer.

"We're used to being nomads, but it's good to have a place," said Mr. Wallace.

Love Letters will be performed at Mount Hope Farm on Friday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 for members, and $25 for non members. For more information and to purchase tickets please call  401/254-1745 or visit Eventbrite.com.

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