Saturday, November 01, 2014

Dear Elizabeth Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Dear Elizabeth
Lyric Stage Company of Boston
140 Clarendon Street, 2d Floor
Boston, MA
Now Playing
A Play by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by A. Nora Long

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

One would think that two of America’s great poets would write great letters, especially to each other.  Whoever thinks so is correct. Add to the letters the fact that there is pathos and humor and they become great letters.  No dull, wasted verbiage here.  Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop pour their hearts out to each other and at times are brutally frank about the other’s poetry. 

One could also assume that letters between poets would not make a great play. Assumption wrong. Sarah Ruhl extracts two lives and brings them together, in sometimes confrontational and other times tender moments.  Her writing is never dull, in fact it is mostly riveting as the two protagonists move about indoors and outdoors, symbolic of their internal, external revelations. 

In one scene Bishop goes to Key West, Florida and to portray it, a Lionel electric train zips around a circular track to indicate the method of transportation.  In others snow falls, while in yet other scenes the stage or a suitcase opens to depict a beach or a lake.  Lighting and the scenery add to the reality.

However good the script, the scenery, the lighting it is always the actors who make or break a play. In this play Laura Latreille is a knock-out as Elizabeth Bishop.  Her hand movements say it all. When she is distressed her face reveals the anguish. Her happiness is the face of sunshine.  And her hugs for Lowell reveal her not-too-physically-close relationship with him and at time perhaps the romantic ambivalence she felt. Nonetheless, she is electric in the spectrum of Bishop’s emotions and a marvel to sit and watch and listen.

Ed Hoopman as Robert Lowell does an excellent job of portraying the Brahmin/aristocratic, mentally ill poet who depends heavily on Bishop’s friendship and commentary on his poems. Despite his illness, Lowell is a tender caring man who even during his time a McLean
Hospital is capable of lucidity for family and his one true friend.

It is noted in numerous books how they depended and influenced each other, something which both have stated.   In the program booklet the late Thom Gunn in his book Remembering Elizabeth Bishop wrote “Elizabeth told me about Robert Lowell.  She said, ‘He’s my best friend.’ When I met him a few years later, I mentioned that I knew her and he said, “Oh she’s my best friend.’ It was nice to think that she and Lowell both thought of each other in the same way.”

Sarah Ruhl is an award-winning playwright does a superior job of taking the letters of Lowell and Bishop and stitching together an extraordinary play, everyone interested in superior performance should attend.

Director Nora Long in directing her first Lyric Stage show does a wonderful job of bringing out the best out of both actors.

Dear Elizabeth is at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through November 9 and I recommend anyone within reading to see it.

Zvi A. Sesling
Reviewer, Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene
Author, King of the Jungle and Author, Across Stones of Bad Dreams
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 8

Publisher, Muddy River Books

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