The North Shore Village Theatre is kicking off its fall season with an upcoming performance of the A. R. Gurney play “Love Letters.”
The local thespian troupe will use the performance to raise money for local food banks as well as helping the group save up to establish a permanent theater in the area.
The Village Theatre is a nonprofit community theater company made up of residents from Sea Cliff, Glen Cove, Glen Head and Glenwood Landing. Founded in 2018, the group had a handful of performances before the coronavirus pandemic shut down their live shows indefinitely, although they held a virtual variety show in 2020.
“Love Letters,” features two characters, Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, who sit side-by-side and read notes, letters and cards, never directly addressing the other. Over nearly 50 years, the two characters share their hopes, dreams and defeats with each other and the audience.
Jeanne Whelan, who plays Gardner, said that “Love Letters” reflects the development of relationships over time, from elementary school to Gardner’s and Ladd’s 50s. The Glen Cove resident added that she wanted to act in it for some time, and had even been told about it by Matthew Broderick.
“(Love Letters) is just this relationship that is expressed in these letters that has a lot of depth and is very heartwarming,” Whelan said. “It speaks to the changes to the dynamics of love that can happen at different points in our lives. So it really is a beautifully written play.”
Christopher Moll, the theatre’s artistic director and co-founder, explained that the idea to do the play came about from conversations he had had with Whelan and Andrew Bennett, who plays Ladd. Moll is the drama club advisor at Robert Finley Middle School in Glen Cove, where Whelan’s son Leo and Bennett’s son Parker participated in drama.
After a performance by the drama club two years ago, Moll said he was approached by the two boys who told him their respective parents were actors and that they wanted to do a play with him. Although the pandemic had put the Village Theatre’s performances on hold, the three said that they didn’t stop thinking about performing “Love Letters” until they were able to produce it this year.
While planning the show, Moll, Bennett and Whelan decided to turn the event into a three-part fundraiser. Each of them chose a charity to donate a third of the money raised.
Whelan decided to donate to The Fellowship Café at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s, a monthly food service program. The second charity, chosen by Bennett, is NOSH Deliver’s, Inc., a free food distribution service charity based in Glen Cove.
Moll said that he chose the Village Theatre for his charity, setting aside funds to help with the nonprofit organization’s long-term goal of building a community culture center and theater in downtown Glen Cove.
“They both really wanted to perform this show and they didn’t need to be paid to do it, so we just thought the best route would be to donate to local charities,” Moll said. “We’ve had a couple of fundraisers and with “Love Letter,” the money that we make will go to that goal again.”
The show, directed by screenwriter and playwright Fred Stroppel of Glen Cove, has been an interesting experience to prep for due to the lack of props and the reliance on the skill of only two actors, Bennett said. He added that the show really puts the focus on the performance of the actors and their chemistry.
Both he and Whelan have been acting for decades, although neither has pursued acting since the early 2000’s. Whelan was part of a small theatre company called “A Small Company in America” in the 1990s, while Bennett was a theatre major at SUNY Binghamton, and later started two theater companies in Manhattan before leaving the industry to pursue a career in education.
Bennett and Whelan added that they had both been very interested in doing the play for a while and were excited to get the chance to act again.
“(Love Letters) really makes me laugh, makes me cry, it makes me go through basically every emotion in the hour and a half that it takes to get through the play,” Bennett said. “One of the things for me to look forward to is none of my three kids have ever seen me act, so this is a way or me to put myself out there and show them what used to be my whole life.”
“Love Letters” will be performed at Glenwood Life Center, 71 Grove St., Glenwood Landing on Oct. 6 and 7 at 8 p.m. To purchase tickets, which are $25, visit nsvillagetheatre.com.