wendie malick

A Love Story in Letters

Actors Wendie Malick and Dan Lauria began what would become a longtime friendship onstage — and off — a quarter-century ago. The two appear together in November in a special production of Love Letters benefiting Idyllwild Arts Academy and its Summer Program.

GREG ARCHER Arts & Entertainment

wendie malick
Wendie Malick (second from left), who starred with Betty White, Valerie Bertinelli, and Jane Leeves in Hot in Cleveland, will appear with Dan Lauria in Love Letters at Idyllwild Arts Theatre Nov. 11.

Joy. Depression. Divorce. Faded dreams. Few playwrights have been able to convey the grace of moving through such climactic stages in life with the same depth of character depicted by A.R. Gurney in Love Letters.

The first performance of Gurney’s smash-hit production premiered in 1988 and quickly became a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for Stage Drama. Since then, its immense popularity has only benefited from notable actors appearing as the leads in this soul-stirring tale about two star-crossed lovers exchanging correspondences over 50 years’ time.

Taking a cue from the longevity of the relationship portrayed in the play, the Associates of the Idyllwild Arts Foundation cast actors whose real-life friendship spans more than 25 years. Its upcoming production of Love Letters, Nov. 11 at Idyllwild Arts Theatre, stars Wendie Malick (Mom, Hot In Cleveland, Just Shoot Me) as Melissa Gardner and Dan Lauria (Lombardi, Independence Day, The Wonder Years) as Andrew Makepeace Ladd III.

Expect the longtime friendship between Lauria and Malick to give depth to this one-night-only performance and fundraiser benefiting the scholarship fund of the Idyllwild Arts Academy and its Summer Program.

“Dan is my theater husband,” Malick says of Lauria.

The two began watering what would blossom into a deep friendship 25 years ago at a Los Angeles playwrights’ ensemble where actors performed stage readings of new works to encourage young writers. “I became part of Dan’s stable of actors,” Malick says. “He is a fabulous guy to ‘dance’ with [onstage], as they say.”

The pair has previously performed Love Letters together and also appeared in The Guys, a production exploring the fallout of 9/11.

Dan Lauria is most recognized for his role as Jack Arnold on The Wonder Years.

“Wendie is as strong and dramatic an actor as anybody I’ve ever worked with,” Lauria says. “She’s funny. But she’s also the consummate actress. We do The Guys and Love Letters for fundraisers.”

In Love Letters, the characters read aloud collected notes and cards revealing the successes and sorrows of their lifelong relationship.

“People can relate to it,” Lauria says. “There are moments in the play, or lines, that the audience can just identify with. At one point, the female lead says, ‘But Andy, I can’t be that way with you. You are my best friend.’ And the audience goes, ‘Yeah. I’ve heard that one before.’ It really is a universal message.”

Malick says there is so much more than what meets the eye woven into the play, which she first read after Lauria handed it to her a quarter-century ago. At the time, she thought the work seemed a bit “slim,” but Lauria nudged her to “trust” him.

He said, ‘You will be amazed at how powerful it is when you’re in front of an audience,’ ” she says. “And he was right. Suddenly, you realize what an amazing and complicated life that these two characters shared over the course of 50 years. It’s heartbreakingly sad, and very funny. And messy.”

Like life itself.

“It’s this yearning we have for connection at a time when we are getting more and more separate with all of the technology and information bombarding us 24/7,” she continues. “I think real human connection with a human being is something that everyone craves — like flowers crave sun and water.

“This is a story of a deep friendship,” she adds. “And, you know, everybody wonders about that one person in their life who was like a soul mate to them, and what it would have been like had they walked down that path. That’s a really seductive idea to follow.”

Love Letters runs for one night only, Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Idyllwild Arts Theatre, 52500 Temecula Road, Idyllwild. Tickets ($25 to $50) are available at the door and at associatesofiaf.org.

“This is a story of a deep friendship. And, you know, everybody wonders about that one person in their life who was like a soul mate to them, and what it would have been like had they walked down that path. That’s a really seductive idea to follow.”Wendie Malick