Brown Coat Pub and Theater
111 Grace Street
Thurs. – Sun., 11/11 – 21, 8 p.m. or Sun matinees, 5 p.m. • $10
Sometimes as we look at the world around us, we can’t imagine our lives without the instant connectivity that our technological tools and gadgets allow today. When we needed to do research 20 years ago, we went to the library. When we needed Mom’s famous bread recipe, we were in the kitchen cooking with her and writing it down in shorthand. When we needed to write love letters, they were not sent via text messaging.
John Grudzien, local writer and playwright, presents his latest production, “Writing Letters,” which tackles romance, old-fashioned correspondence, and a hefty dose of deception and humor. Opening at Brown Coat Pub and Theatre on Thursday, November 11th, the show centers around the “what-if” of moving to a new city. Out of loneliness, the protagonist answers the previous tenant’s mail to engage in human interaction and perhaps meet someone nice. The repercussions, naturally, turn the play on its head, and into a romantic comedy where audiences can find laughter and maybe a bit of poignancy.
With a full-time career in corporate business, Grudzien’s penmanship has let his artistic, creative soul loose, leading to productions staged in Atlanta, New York and Indiana. After successfully showcasing his last production, “Namaste Indiana,” in Wilmington last spring, Grudzien’s weaponry of words return to the stage with Stephen Raeburn at the directing helm.
“Stephen has worked on Thalian Hall productions and has a degree in film and theatre,” Grudzien notes. “He has reached into my work, and is employing his vision into the blocking of scenes, set design, and development of the characters and their motivations.”
The play stars a wonderful cast, according to Grudzien, including Jeremy Fleming as Josh, Daniel Joseph Gonzalez as Malcolm, Heather Dodd as Audrey, Sarah E. Chambers as Kate and Randall Lucas as George. Grudzien has worked toward creating a unique voice and style for each, detailing characteristics and idiosyncrasies that weave together a larger story and plot.
“Deep down Josh, the main character, is a decent guy, but the act of meeting Kate by answering the previous tenant’s mail puts him into a situation of betrayal of Kate’s trust,” Grudzien explains. “Malcolm, Josh’s gay neighbor, is the compass for the story, reminding Josh of the territory he is entering by answering the letters meant for someone else and deceiving Kate. The other two characters in the play, Audrey and George, have their own take and reflection on the Kate/Josh situation, as well as their own views on ‘modern relationships.’”
Which leads us back to the 21st century, when relationships on all levels—plutonic, romantic, professional—are consistently challenged by the fast pace of communication. Sometimes emotionless, other times full of unintended fervor, the fact remains that no matter the avenue in which we express ourselves, love doesn’t break from traditional building blocks, a la trust. “The characters have a monologue of sorts before the play starts about what it was like then, [in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the play’s timeline,] and what the present cyber-world is,” Grudzien notes. “Obviously, you were unable to Google someone’s bio, or send an e-mail, tweet or text at three in the morning. I think that part is fascinating; in such a relatively short time, we have gone from writing letters and waiting for the mail [to instantaneous answers via] text, news, gossip, stock quotes. Someone remarked that they can’t imagine that world anymore, and it’s less than 20 years ago. Because technology and its use is still evolving, it makes an interesting subject.”
Regardless of how sentiments are rendered, the heart of the play maintains a romantic comedy, something transcendent across all decades, as Malcom so perfectly expresses: “Romantic comedy—romance and comedy—isn’t it the same thing?” In essence, yes. But layers reveal themselves to audiences in various ways in “Writing Letters,” something Grudzien finds fascinating.
“What paths people take or what actions they do in the name of love or for love is an old but true thing,” he notes. “I think even a contemporary audience likes to see these kinds of stories now and again. It is really interesting the various takes, levels or messages people see in the work. I find that really rewarding.”