“Dear Elizabeth” is a lovely, if somewhat sanitized, story of the thirty-five year friendship of 20th century American poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Though the two enjoyed a special relationship, they actually spent very little time together, communicating primarily by letter.
Director A. Nora Long nicely leaves you yearning for the gentler, more meaningful form of communication of days gone by with perfect staging and reading of said letters in Lyric Stage's production. Laura Latreille and Ed Hoopman embody the poets with such passion for words and for each other that you can’t help being charmed by this production.
Shelley Barish’s set, a cluttered hodgepodge of the kind of stuff people gather while living full, creative lives on several continents, makes you feel front and center in this relationship. Worn, inviting furniture, tennis rackets, bottles of booze and an impressive floor-to-ceiling stack of books bring life and an oddly appealing sense of musty New England comfort to the rustic backdrop.
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Latreille imbues her Elizabeth with a Katharine Hepburn-like Yankee sensibility that, at first, seems void of emotion. But as she ages, the physical and emotional maturation bring about a sense of confidence and comfort that make clear what an impressive performance you’ve witnessed.
Hoopman’s Lowell has a nice awe-shucks demeanor about him, though he doesn’t age as effectively as Elizabeth. He does, however, deliver a heartfelt pang of sadness during a pivotal point of unrequited love that is quite touching. Unfortunately, playwright Sarah Ruhl glosses over a goldmine of material in his marital issues and mental illness that would’ve yielded a much more interesting Lowell.
“Dear Elizabeth” sometimes feels like an overly-romanticized tale of two poets. If you don’t know them, you might think, stellar production notwithstanding, this would be a nice story for a magazine.
If you go
Through November 9th
140 Clarendon St., Boston
$25 - $63