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DEAR ELIZABETH: Riveting Theater by Sarah Ruhl

“When I first read their letters, I felt compelled to keep going. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next,” playwright Sarah Ruhl said recently about her new play Dear Elizabeth. “People don’t often know what to do with friendships, but they have a life – a rhythm of their own.”

Fringe Theater explores that rhythm in its upcoming production of Dear Elizabeth, presented in conjunction with Theatre XP and the Key West Summer Stage at the Red Barn Theatre.  The production runs four nights only, July 26-29, 8pm at the Red Barn Theater, located at 319 Duval Street. 

Dear Elizabeth is based on the letters exchanged over a 30-year period between two Pulitzer Prize winning poets, Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Their friendship was complicated – built on respect but driven by something more. Bishop was an alcoholic and Lowell would probably be diagnosed as bi-polar today.

Elizabeth Bishop was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet who published only 101 poems in her troubled lifetime. She drank heavily, was capable of obsession with the women she loved, and considered poetry a way of ‘thinking one’s feelings.’  Interestingly, she lived for many years in her Key West home on White Street.  

Robert Lowell was only 30 years old when he met Elizabeth Bishop. He had already been appointed poet laureate, won the Pulitzer Prize, and was considered one of the most influential American poets of his time.  He published prolifically throughout his life, despite being hospitalized frequently for mania.  

“They deeply loved each, but were not always certain what they should do with that love,” Ruhl said in an interview.  She explored the sometimes turbulent friendship as it was revealed in more than 450 letters exchanged over the span of 30 years.  “I wanted to use their own words to create a play — to let them tell their own story.”

  Bishop and Lowell lived in an era when poets committed suicide at an alarming rate. They each credited their friendship with sustaining them professionally and personally. “You are the might have been for me,” Robert Lowell wrote to Elizabeth Bishop, “the other life that might have been had.” 

This compelling and beautiful play explores friendship, unrequited love, personal demons, and the people who not only survived it all, but turned it into poetry. 

The play is fully staged under the direction of Fringe’s Artistic Director Rebecca Tomlinson with Paula Cabot and Andrew Cannady playing Bishop and Lowell. “Every day I learn more about these poets just by the way the actors bring their stories to life,” shares Tomlinson. “Compelling really is the right word to describe this show.” Cellist Denise Nathanson joins the cast to help create an intriguing evening of theater that is sure to captivate audiences.  

Tickets for Dear Elizabeth are $25 and are available online at www.redbarntheatre.com or 305-296-9911. Dear Elizabeth runs four nights only, July 26-29 at 8pm. More information can be found at www.fringetheater.org.

Key West Summer Stage is sponsored in part by Royal Furniture, Blue Heaven, The Grand Café, Design Group Key West, Digital Island Media, KONKLife, and the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. For more information on Summer Stage events, visit keywestsummerstage.com or call TheatreXP at 302-540-6102.

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