Two of the great poets of the twentieth century, Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, managed to sustain a close friendship for thirty years through letters and correspondence. Bishop and Lowell grew and nurtured a deeply personal friendship through the written word, and although they met on occasion, their relationship was forged through their prolific letter writing to one another. This idea is the basis for the play “Dear Elizabeth” at People’s Light and Theatre Company. This show is full of beautiful prose and People’s Light’s production captures the beauty of the relationship between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.
In 1947, two prominent poets, Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, met and this began a correspondence and friendship that grew through letters and throughout their lives. Playwright, Sarah Ruhl, uses the voluminous letters between these writers to form the basis for Dear Elizabeth. Bishop was not only a poet and short story writer, she also was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1949-1950, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her poetry in 1956 and the National Book Award in 1970. Lowell served as the sixth Poet Laureate of the United States from 1947 to 1948, won the National Book Award in 1960, the Pulitzer Prize of Poetry in 1947 and 1974 and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977. In this play, Ruhl looks past the popularity of these two writers, and gives a glimpse at the raw relationship between Bishop and Lowell. This play is honest and smart, as it captures the beauty of the letters between these two individuals.
Dear Elizabeth is currently at People’s Light and Theatre Company under the direction of Lisa Rothe. The show features Ellen McLaughlin as Elizabeth Bishop and Rinde Eckert as Robert “Cal” Lowell. Both these actors give fine performances in Dear Elizabeth. In addition, McLaughlin and Eckert are husband and wife in real life. McLaughlin captures Bishop’s honesty and rawness. As McLaughlin subtly downs drink after to drink to remind audiences of Bishop’s alcoholism, she also expresses the emotions of this well-known writer. The spirit of Bishop is elicited through McLaughlin’s performance. Eckert, also gives an exceptional performance bringing to light Lowell’s manic-depressive behavior. Ruhl’s play suggests that the letters between Bishop and Lowell allowed them to express a side of themselves that they did not reveal to the public. There was much they conveyed to each other in these letters, and the shear honesty in their relationship is made plain as Bishop writes to Lowell, “When you write my epithet you must say, I am the loneliest person who ever lived.” The depth of this friendship is lovingly revealed in Dear Elizabeth, and anyone with passion for these writers or the art of letter writing should see this genuinely moving production.
Dear Elizabeth runs at People’s Light and Theatre Company through April 27, 2014. For more information and tickets call their box office at 610-644-3500 or visit their website at www.peopleslight.org.
Final Thought: Dear Elizabeth is an honest look into the relationship between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. This show is passionate and candid, and provides a glimpse into the souls and minds of these two dear friends and celebrated literary figures.
Kelli Curtin is editor and writer for theatresensation.com. In addition, she is a contributor for the online sites broadwayworld.com and figlancaster.com and is a freelance writer. Kelli is excited to share her passion about theatre and the arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on twitter @theatrescribe and on Facebook/theatresensation.