By RITA CHARLESTON
For 21st Century Media
In 1947, influential and highly acclaimed mid-century American poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell began a correspondence and profound friendship that lasted until Lowell died of a heart attack in 1977.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tony Award nominee Sarah Ruhl, uses the text of these revealing, witty, incisive, and often times very funny letters to create her own theatrical poetry in “Dear Elizabeth,” on stage now through April 27 at People’s Light and Theatre, located at 39 Conestoga Road in Malvern.
Ellen McLaughlin takes the role of Elizabeth opposite her real-life husband Rinde Eckert, who plays Lowell. “The lives and friendship of Elizabeth and Robert, these two extraordinary people, are played out in their beautifully written, bright and often affectionate letters — letters between two people who truly loved each others’ minds and spirits,” said McLaughlin.
“The play is all about friendship, and I don’t think many successful plays about friendship between a man and a woman exist. They were both prize winning poets, and I think this is a completely fascinating and original play.”
McLaughlin points out that some may also find it fascinating to watch a husband and wife create these two fascinating characters. “Appearing in a play with your husband can be difficult at times, but it’s nice that he’s a writer and I’m a writer. We’ve both been in the theater for a long time and I feel we treat each other well as colleagues,” McLaughlin said.
“Of course,” she sais, “it’s not always easy because we both have egos, and of course we both think we’re always right. But we can usually work things out because we have a great deal of respect f or each other.”
McLaughlin was born in Boston but grew up primarily in the D.C. area, and says she fell in love with the theater and with writing at a young age. “I was very lucky that both my parents were avid theatergoers. One day, when I was fairly young, they took me to see King Lear. During a curtain call, I was blinded by the woman playing Cordelia. I watch how the stage light illuminated the back of her and knew I could play that part someday. And one day, I actually did!”
In fact, over the years, McLaughlin played many parts on stage and in film and TV. She has worked on and off Broadway extensively, and is most well known for having originated the part of the Angel in Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” appearing in every U.S, production from its earliest workshops through its Broadway run.
Other favorite roles, she says, include The Homebody in: “Homebody Kabul,” Pirate Jenny in “Threepenny Opera,” Mrs. Alvin in ”Ghosts,” and Titania in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Her on=screen credits include “Everything Relative,” “The Bed You Sleep In,” with guest appearances on “Law & Order.”
Additionally, McLaughlin has written many plays that have been performed at various venues around the country. She has received many grants and awards, and has taught playwriting from Yale School of Drama to Princeton University to Barnard College.
Enjoying every moment of appearing in this play, McLaughlin said she thoroughly enjoys both acting and writing.
“Acting makes me happy in a way nothing else does. It’s fun in a way writing never is,” she said. “But if I couldn’t write I don’t think I’d be able to think. In a way, it helps me process my own life experiences, so it’s essential to who I am. So, in reality, I don’t think I could do without either one.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Dear Elizabeth”
WHERE: People’s Light & Theatre, 39 Conestoga Road in Malvern.
WHEN: Now through April 27.
TICKETS: Single tickets are $26-$46.
INFO. For more information check peopleslight.org or call (610) 644-3500.