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Interplayers hopes ‘Love Letters’ can repeat 1993 feats

The similarities to a certain 1993 theatrical event are striking.

In September of that year, Interplayers did exactly what it is doing this week: staging a three-performance fundraiser of A.R. Gurney’s romantic dramedy, “Love Letters,” starring Hollywood veterans Ellen Travolta and Jack Bannon.

The critical response the first time around was unequivocal: “An absolutely wonderful show … deeply emotional, bittersweet and heartbreaking.”

Tonight and Saturday, Travolta and Bannon are back, performing the same beloved play for the same reasons: to help out Interplayers and give something back to the art of live theater.

All proceeds from this weekend’s shows will go directly toward producing plays for the remainder of the Interplayers season.

In 1993, Travolta said, “It’s like paying back. We’ve been so lucky.”

Which is pretty much exactly what she said this time around, as well. Travolta said she and her husband, Bannon, want to help out the financially struggling theater as much as possible.

Still, a few things have changed since 1993:

• “Love Letters” was an unknown quantity in Spokane in 1993.

It was written by Gurney in 1989 as a fundraiser for New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater. This was its first production in Spokane. Since then, “Love Letters” has been produced in the region at least six times.

• In 1993, Travolta and Bannon did not yet belong to the Inland Northwest.

They still lived in L.A., where they had made a name on stage, in movies and on TV (“Charles in Charge” for Travolta, “Lou Grant” for Bannon).

They had, however, appeared a few summers earlier with the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre and had fallen in love with the region. They had also gotten to know Interplayers founders Bob and Joan Welch, which is why they agreed to do the fundraiser.

Travolta said in a 1993 interview that they were hoping to move to Coeur d’Alene someday. Not long afterward, they did.

They have since become an influential part of the region’s theater culture, having appeared in numerous shows at the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, Interplayers and the Spokane Civic Theatre.

• Interplayers’ financial needs are even greater today than they were in 1993. It has been a rough decade for Interplayers, which is counting on strong sales this weekend to help it produce the rest of its season without going too deeply into the red.

One thing that hasn’t changed: Gurney’s timeless and effective script.

It tells the story of a long-distance romance between Andy and Melissa, two friends since childhood. The story of this unfulfilled romance is told entirely through letters, read by the two actors as they sit on stage.

Gurney specifies in the script that the letters should be read, not memorized, which is one reason it makes for a perfect theatrical fundraiser. The production budget and rehearsal time can be minimized.

Chances are, one other thing hasn’t changed: the talent and professionalism of the two stars.

Here was our 1993 critical verdict: “Their performances were seminars in the use of gesture and nuance to add deeper meaning to the spoken word.”

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