Theater lovers and movie lovers alike have something to look forward to in Wilmington the next two weekends when stars of the Silver Screen come to show off their stage talents in a production of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters at UNCW’S Kenan Auditorium.
Movie fans will recognize the stars of the play’s two-performance run in Wilmington. First up is Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, the stars of the 1970s movie Love Story, who will take the stage this weekend on Saturday, Oct. 5. Then, the following weekend, famed “Brat Pack” actor Judd Nelson joins Twin Peaks actress Sheryl Lee for a performance of the play on Oct. 12.
These renowned actors will be performing A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, a play that chronicles a 50-year relationship between Andrew Makepeace Ladd II and Melissa Gardner, as revealed through their most intimate correspondence.
One unique quality of this stage production is that the actors don’t need to learn a script. The story is contained in a series of letters that they read back and forth to each other.
“It starts out simple, but gets more complex and deep, and the ending is very bitter sweet,” Nelson said in an interview with Lumina News. “It may seem like a different time with different people, but it reflects on our time period as well. Like all families in all societies, they have their rules and their traditions.”
Performing the play this Saturday is O’Neal and MacGraw, most known for the 1970s romantic classic, Love Story. The sixth highest-grossing film of its time, Love Story garnered a number of award nominations, including winning the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture. The pair were nominated for best actor and actress for both the Academy Awards and Golden Globe, with MacGraw taking the award for Best Actress at the 1971 Golden Globe Awards.
Like the other actors coming to Wilmington, Nelson said he enjoys meeting fans of his past works. Nelson is popular to many for his many 1980s movie appearances, especially “The Breakfast Club” and “St. Elmo’s Fire,” with the troupe of actors appearing in the films garnering the nickname “The Brat Pack.” But that’s not his only work that draws fan appreciation.
“I get a lot of fans of the animated Transformers movies that I had a role in as a voice actor,” Nelson said. “I’m thankful for the fans, without them, I wouldn’t have this wonderful career. Anything they want to talk about is fine with me.”
The actress Nelson is sharing the stage with also has a connection to filming in the Port City, as she appeared in nine episodes of the show “One Tree Hill,” which was mostly shot in Wilmington during its nine-season run from 2003 through 2012. Lee portrayed Elizabeth “Ellie” Harp, who is introduced as the birth mother of one of the show’s main characters, Peyton Sawyer, in the season two finale, and dies of cancer midway through the third season.
Lee’s most well-recognized role is as Laura Palmer, the homecoming queen whose murder, and subsequent criminal investigation, serves as the central plot element for the acclaimed 1990s TV show Twin Peaks, as well as the 1992 movie Twin Peaks:Fire Walk with Me.
And while both Nelson and Lee have decades of acting experience between them, they have never before worked together in a stage or screen production.
“She’s a great actress, this will be fun,” Nelson said.
It isn’t Judd Nelson’s first trip to Wilmington either, as he was here in 1986 for the filming “From the Hip,” playing the movie’s lead role.
It also isn’t the first time that Nelson has performed Love Letters, as he acted in the stage production in 1991 opposite Valerie Bertinelli. He said he was thrilled to be able to perform the play again.
“When the offer came in, I said yes! I had a great time doing it years ago, I’m absolutely into it,” Nelson said. “It’s kind of sad but also kind of wonderful. We all end up being the sum total of the decisions we make in our lives and this play is a reminder of that.”
Persist Theatricals produce the show, with Nelson and Lee perform on Saturday, Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. Call 800-732-3643 for tickets or order online here.