“Family Ties” stars Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross reunite for Totem Pole Playhouse’s production of “Love Letters,” an epistolary romance about two lifelong friends who could never quite get together or completely pull apart.
Baxter and Gross played “cool” ex-hippie parents Elyse and Steven Keaton during a much-lauded, seven-year run of NBC’s “Family Ties” (1982-89), a top rated sitcom that also featured Michael J. Fox as their teen son, button-down conservative Alex Keaton.
Now Baxter and Gross are performing together again at Totem Pole in the popular “Love Letters” by A.R. Gurney. The touching play is simply-dressed, just two people alternately reading from the many notes, letters and cards they’ve exchanged over a 50-year friendship/romance.
The weeklong run will open Tuesday and continue through Aug. 27.
“Meredith and Michael are such great people and such great actors,” said Rowan Joseph, producing artistic director at the professional summer stock theater in Caledonia State Park. “We are so fortunate to have them at Totem Pole.”
The show is directed by another well-known star, actress Judith Ivey, who has earned Tony Awards for her performances in “Steaming” (1983) and “Hurlyburly” (1985). Television audiences may remember her from her portrayal of B.J. Poteet in the 1990s sitcom “Designing Women.”
“We’ve got a lot of star power coming in,” Joseph said with a laugh.
Stephanie Allen Via brings a lot of personal experience to bear as director of “Taking Leave,” a play at Oyster Mill Playhouse that features both laughter and sadness as a renowned scholar slowly succumbs to Alzheimer’s disease.
Via watched as her own grandmother fell victim to the disease, which slowly robs people of memory and ultimately, their lives.
“The show itself is an important piece of theater,” Via said, “because it gives the audience an unvarnished look at the toll that Alzheimer’s disease can take on not only the patient, but on the patient’s family and friends as well.”
Via performed in a production of Nagle Jackson’s “Taking Leave” at Oyster Mill in 2005, shortly before her grandmother’s diagnosis. She said her experience with the play helped her cope.
“Thanks to what I learned about Alzheimer’s through character research, education and rehearsals during that production,” she said, “I was much better equipped to handle the news.”
“Taking Leave” tells the fictional story of Dr. Eliot Pryne, a Shakespearean expert specializing in “King Lear,” who is slowly losing his grip on reality. The play also features his three adult daughters who have very different reactions upon learning their father has Alzheimer’s disease.
The show runs through Aug. 27 at the community theater in East Pennsboro Township. The play contains strong language and brief nudity.
“People should come to see this show not only to be entertained,” Via said, “but because everyone should see what Alzheimer’s disease can take from us.”
Hershey Area Playhouse officials already are thinking about next year.
That’s not quite true, of course, as the community theater in Derry Township does still have four shows left this year, starting this weekend with “A Weekend of One Act Plays,” a series of six short plays that will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday and again on Saturday.
The evening will include “Call of the Revolution,” about a family at the dawn of the American Revolution; “The Apple,” a satirical look at how people view art; “Comrades,” about two Italian immigrants executed for crimes they did not commit; and “Always Kitty,” about the life of Catherine Hershey.
Also still to come at HAP are “The Curious Savage,” a comedy that will run Oct. 5-15, and two holiday shows: Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Nov. 30-Dec. 10; and “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Dec. 14-17.
But playhouse officials did recently announced the 2018 season, a lineup scheduled to include:
— “The Secret Garden,” Feb. 8-18. This 1991 Broadway musical is based on the magical children’s novel written by Frances Hodgson Burnet in 1911.
— “Italian American Reconciliation,” April 12-22. This zany 1988 romantic comedy by John Patrick Shanley is the story of a man who is determined to win back his ex-wife even though she shot his dog.
— “Once Upon a Mattress,” July 19-29. A musical comedy from 1959 that marked Carol Burnett’s Broadway debut, this still-popular show is a hilarious send-up of the fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.”
— “Inherit the Wind,” Oct. 4-14. This 1955 courtroom drama by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee is based on a real case from 1925 in which a high school science teacher is put on trial for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution to his class.
Learn more at hersheyareaplayhouse.com.