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Stage-struck seniors cast in 'Love Letters'

Stage-struck seniors cast in 'Love Letters'
Rich Meyersburg and Theresa Joyner rehearse a scene from "Love Letters" at Laurel Beltsville Senior Activity Center. The show appears Sunday, Nov. 2 at Laurel Mill Playhouse. (Submitted photo)

Laurel Mill Playhouse producer Maureen Rogers, of Laurel, was enjoying a ski trip in the Pocono Mountains when she saw A. R. Gurney's "Love Letters" for the first time.

It was love at first sight.

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Rogers said she knew instantly that the performance piece playing so beautifully in the historic Shawnee Inn's living room would fit the Playhouse's intimate stage on Main Street.

"I thought it was perfect for the Playhouse," she said. "They had older actors with great voices. And I knew we had some of those at Laurel Mill Playhouse."

A year or so later, during the summer of 2010, Rogers produced the first Sunday afternoon reading of "Love Letters" at the little theater. Veteran community actors Doug Silverman and Irene Patton, of Columbia, performed the Pulitzer-nominated piece to a packed audience.

In epistolary style, Gurney's script consists of nearly 50 years of correspondence between two lifelong friends (perhaps even soul mates), read by two actors sitting side-by-side, anywhere.

Born to wealth and privilege, characters Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner begin their correspondence as childhood friends, attending birthday parties and sending thank you notes.

As adults, Andy becomes a U.S. senator and Melissa a failing artist. Both marry other people but continue to write notes and letters, sharing deeper confidences as time courses on.

Gurney performed the first reading of the script at the New York Library himself, along with television actress Holland Taylor; the play opened soon after at Long Wharf Theater in Connecticut in 1988.

"Love Letters" has starred dozens of big names on and off Broadway, returning to Broadway just last month with a rotating cast that includes Brian Dennehy, Mia Farrow, Alan Alda, Candice Bergen, Carol Burnett, Anjelica Huston, Stacy Keach, Diana Rigg and Martin Sheen.

Rogers is reprising the Playhouse's presentation at a single matinee performance on Nov. 2. This time around, members of a weekly Intro to Drama class that Rogers teaches at the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center will take the Playhouse stage under her direction.

Feeling stage-struck at any age is exciting, and Rogers' cast and crew of four actors and a tech director/costume designer said they love the ride.

Audience members may do a double take when identical twins Rich and Munro Meyersburg, whose only slight difference in appearance is their facial hair, appear as Andy in Act 1 and Act 2, respectively.

Munro said his brother — who sees many of the shows at the Playhouse and is a big fan of Rogers — convinced him to enroll in Rogers' drama class. Both gentlemen live within walking distance of the Playhouse in historic Laurel and said they are more than pleased to be making their acting debuts there.

"LMP is a very lively community theater that puts on highly professional shows," Munro Meyersburg said. "It's a thrill to be appearing there."

Rich Meyersburg said he is interested in playwriting and began studying acting with Rogers to gain insight into crafting dialogue. He said he hopes to have some of his work showcased in the theater's one-act festivals in the future.

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Brenda Smiley (who will read Melissa to Rich's Andy) and Theresa Joiner (appearing with Munro in Act 2) also seem excited.

"Maureen is giving us a great baptism into acting," Smiley said.

Joiner said she is looking forward to doing a lot more acting after the "Love Letters" performance.

Rogers said that one-acts are next, at the senior activity center and possibly at Laurel Mill Playhouse.

Patricia Yates, the troupe's technical director and costume designer, said she wants to become an apprentice costumer for the Playhouse. Yates said she loves pursuing the creativity she had to put on hold until she retired.

Alternately funny and poignant with surprising twists, Gurney's "Love Letters" compares to a novel that you can't put down. And in this age of social media, a storyline that depends on the fading art of letter writing should prove the perfect venue for talented seniors strutting their stuff.

"Love Letters" will run for one performance only, Sunday, Nov. 2 at 2 p.m. Contains mature subject matter and language unsuitable for young children. General admission is $20. Students 18 and under, active duty military and seniors, 65 and over, pay $15. For reservations, call 301-617-9906 and press 2.

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