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Reflections, connections resonate deeply in Love Letters

Posted: February 10, 2015 4:32 p.m.
Updated: February 11, 2015 1:00 a.m.
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Joy Claussen Scully

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Tony and Joy Claussen Scully bring their formidable stage and unique life experiences to the Fine Arts Center (FAC) of Kershaw County’s Wood Auditorium on Friday night.

The husband and wife duo take the lead roles in A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters,” a play focusing on the lives of its two main characters, Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III.

The play, currently running on Broadway, has attracted such luminaries as Mia Farrow, Brian Dennehy, Carol Burnett, Alan Alda, Candice Bergen, Stacy Keach, Diana Rigg, Anjelica Huston and Martin Sheen.

While the audience sees the actors together on stage, there is no direct interaction between the two, notes Director Jane Peterson. Instead, they sit side by side discussing their hopes and ambitions, dreams and disappointments, victories and defeats through readings of letters and notes penned to each other over the span of some 50 years.

“We work through rhythm, mood, and characterization,” Peterson said. “I will also rely heavily on the talents of my technical director, Bryant Herring who will design the lighting for the show.”

The passage of time is “seen” through lighting changes more than any shift in the actors’ appearance or placement on the stage, Peterson said.

And yet, that separation underpins the poignancy and connectedness the two characters actually share, actors and director noted.

“This is a play I’ve always wanted to do,” Joy said. “As you see through the years, she has a difficult life, just as he does. While both come from wealthy backgrounds, they are two totally different people -- she is artsy, free spirited, determined not to be defined by circumstance. He is much more buttoned up. They are two completely different people, yet there’s this bond between them that is always there.”

Tony noted the premise in and of itself -- two scions of wealthy Northeastern families musing on the ups and downs of their lives -- may seem like a subject which does not initially resonate. Yet who these people really are and the questions they ponder universally strikes deep chords.

“Both characters are very familiar to all of us,” he said. “The adventurous woman, the man programmed to achieve a certain kind of success -- they both pay a price for the paths they choose.

“What this play seems to be about is how so many relationships don’t seem to work -- but they do, just in different ways,” he added. “They question how and why this happened -- and everybody relates to that.”

Joy agreed, noting she sees parallels to her own life in the character of Melissa Gardner. Melissa is an artist -- she comes from a wealthy family -- but artists are artists and tend to act accordingly, she said.

“It’s hard to be an artist whether you have money or not,” Joy said. “She’s fragile -- human beings are -- and no amount of money can really help that.”

Success as an artist, at least to Joy, is not achieving fame and fortune, but being able to make a living as an artist. Joy has experienced and enjoyed the limelight, but she realizes all the bit parts and television commercials between dream roles allows one to pursue the craft and she is very grateful for that.

Tony said he sees parallels to himself in Andrew.

“I love the character,” he said. “I have to find the balance of when to rein in and when to let go, just as we as a society have to find that place between self control and seeing how far we can take it. I like that -- I like finding that middle ground.”

Peterson said she has greatly enjoyed working with the Scullys, both of whom bring a level of expertise to the stage rarely seen in community theater.

Joy, who began her career at Carnegie Mellon and the Pittsburgh Playhouse, played the lead role of Hedy LaRue on Broadway in the Pulitzer Prize winning musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying with Robert Morse and Rudy Vallee. She was also featured as Aphrodite in the Broadway musical, Happiest Girl in the World with Cyril Ritchard and Janice Rule, as well as starred in seven off-Broadway musicals. She has acted in guest spots on many network TV comedies and performed in stage musicals all over the country. Featured in more than 200 national commercials, she was the spokesperson for AIM toothpaste for more than 10 years.

Tony, who is currently mayor of Camden, spent three years at Yale School of Drama where he was the Eugene O’Neill scholar. During that time, the Yale Repertory Company produced his play, The Great Chinese Revolution, directed by Ali Taygun. He worked as a playwright in New York, with several of his plays performed in a number of off-Broadway theaters, and was playwright in residence at Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre. He has written for touring shows and multiple staged readings, worked in street theater and has lectured at Yale, School of Visual Arts, NYU, University of Rochester and Jersey City State College. 

“Working with Tony and Joy has been wonderful,” Peterson said. “They are both so talented and Joy, having worked on Broadway, is a breath of fresh air. The two of them have such a wonderful, close relationship and chemistry and it will definitely be evident in this production.”

 “Love Letters is way more than a Valentine,” Tony said. “With Andy and Melissa, we go through laughter, tears, hurt, anger, passion, jealousy and sweet surrender -- all the things that happen with lovers and would-be lovers over the course of a lifetime. The audience will recognize themselves and have a great time, just like us!”

The performance is at 7 p.m. Friday in the Wood Auditorium with a champagne reception immediately following the performance. Tickets are $20 each. All proceeds benefit the FAC. For more information call 425-7676, or visit the website at www.fineartscenter.org or www.facebook.com/fineartscenterFACofKC.

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