Alums play at Homecoming

If your heart is beating and you’ve stepped outside your house, it is inevitable that sometime, somewhere, you’ve met someone who has made your heart go pitter-pat. But what if you didn’t have the confidence to tell this person your true feelings, and so you were left to wonder, “What could’ve happened?” This is the premise of A.R. Gurney’s play Love Letters, which will be performed at Carnegie Mellon during Homecoming weekend. Love Letters follows the poignant and often heartbreaking tale of a man and a woman who, after missing a chance for true love at an early age, spend the rest of their lives corresponding through letters, hoping that one day a letter in the mailbox will deliver a message of reciprocation.

Love Letters, a two-person play, is about the relationship between Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner, played by alums Peter Jason (’66) and Caroline McWilliams (’67). The two characters are polar opposites — Melissa is an eccentric artist, Andrew is a Yale-educated lawyer — yet they have a profound understanding of and love for one another. The play follows their correspondence from a third-grade birthday party’s thank-you note to the love letters of their adulthood. Although both are attracted to one another, their confessions never coincide, and so the plot simmers with their frustrated love.

Ladd is played by Jason, an accomplished actor in over 100 movies, including small roles in Seabiscuit and Kicking and Screaming, since graduating from Carnegie Mellon. Although the reserved demeanor of lawyer Andrew Makepeace is a far cry from Jason’s typically vibrant personality, the role won’t be too much of a stretch for the actor who admitted, “I used to have a crush on Caroline McWilliams for so long.” He added, “I love [Caroline and executive producer Iris Rainer Dart] a lot, so it will be great to get back together with them.”

McWilliams, who plays the role of Gardner and who is also directing the play, met Jason as an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon. After dating their senior year, the two have remained friends and occasionally work on projects together. “Acting is much easier because he’s my friend, but directing a friend is much harder than directing someone who’s not ... but we trust each other. That’s the ingredient that’s needed to do this kind of thing, and we have that in great measure.”

Both actors acknowledge that trust and friendship are valuable resources in show biz, and Carnegie Mellon taught them that. “[The Carnegie Mellon drama program] broke down ego and created a family. That’s what lacks out here in Hollywood,” Jason said, who is currently writing a book called Change Clothes and Look for Parking about his hectic and often cutthroat life as an actor in Hollywood. Jason has been a professional actor for 42 years and said that although the drama program teaches the best training in technique, what it doesn’t prepare students for is rejection.

Dart, the show’s executive producer, turned to writing after a few discouraging years as a struggling actress in Hollywood. Her best-selling novel, Beaches, was made into a film starring Bette Midler. Dart, Jason, and McWilliams are very excited to be returning to campus to collaborate once again, and, most importantly, to work with the current talent in the drama program. McWilliams said she was most excited about returning to Carnegie Mellon and seeing what the student lighting director will be able to create. “The training [at Carnegie Mellon] doesn’t get any better, so I’m excited to see what the lighting designer creates with only a few ‘looks.’ ”

Love Letters is being produced by School of Drama senior Kevin Emrick, who is currently taking a semester to intern with Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing. Not only will Love Letters give drama students the opportunity to make connections with alumni in preparation for the world of show business, but it will also be a great source of enjoyment. As Jason put it, “It’s called a play. It’s about all the fun you can have.”