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Post Script

'Hate Mail' offers a twist on popular 'Love Letters,' which inspired it.

May 25, 2000|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The longtime relationship of a man and a woman is defined by the letters they exchange over a period of time, read by a pair of actors: That's the format of "Love Letters," a play by A.R. Gurney that's become very popular with theater groups.

And why not--it's cheap to produce, easy to stage and appeals to audiences. The set consists of two chairs and perhaps a couple of music stands to hold the scripts, and the actors don't wear special costumes. More often than not, companies stage readings with different cast members (who don't have to memorize the script) every performance. If they're lucky, as the local Rubicon Company was recently, the performers will be stars. That was the inspiration for "Hate Mail" by Bill Corbett and Kira Obolensky, which is playing for the next several weekends at Theater 150 in Ojai.

Corbett explained in a call from his Minneapolis home that several years ago, "One of the local dinner theaters had 'Love Letters' coming up. It's not specifically my cup of tea, but it's a great idea and I see some good writing in it and I wanted to do an actual correspondence with a woman writer. As it turned out, the form and title inspired our play, but the characters in 'Hate Mail' don't age 30 years, and it's also shorter, which I think is good."

In fact, he says, neither he nor Obolensky--both regulars in the Minneapolis theater scene--had even seen "Love Letters" when they began the exchange of faxes that became the basis of "Hate Mail."

"Hate Mail" begins with a letter of complaint: Preston Dennis Jr. has ordered a souvenir snow globe, which breaks in transit, and he writes from Minneapolis to the New York City dealer, requesting--no, demanding--a refund. The store's Dahlia Markle is adamant in her refusal to accommodate him, and the correspondence--much of it very amusing--continues over a period of, perhaps, just over a year.

When the play debuted in Minneapolis in 1996, the first Dahlia was Mo Collins, who went on to join the "MAD TV" cast. Preston was played early on by Kevin Kling, best-known outside Minneapolis as a public radio commentator, and Mike Nelson, head writer and host for the last several seasons of the TV series "Mystery Science Theater 2000," which featured an astronaut and several robots acerbically commenting on a series of terrible vintage feature films. In fact, Corbett took over from co-creator Trace Beaulieu for the last few seasons as one of the series' writers and the voice of Crow T. Robot.

(Some "Mystery Science" alumni, including Corbett, have created two Web sites: http://www.TimmyBigHands.com and http://www.icebox.com, which have nothing to do with the series or "Hate Mail" but which fans may find amusing.)

The Theater 150 production of "Hate Mail" also features rotating casts--in fact, it looked as though half those in attendance at Friday's opening would be performing the show in the future. This weekend's schedule includes Julie Christensen and John Diehl on Friday; Betsey Rundle and Scott Allan Campbell on Saturday; and Anne Kerry Ford and Jim Lashly on Sunday.

DETAILS

"Hate Mail" continues Friday through Sunday at 8 p.m. through June 15 at Theater 150, 918 E. Ojai Ave. in Ojai. All tickets are $20, but the theater is very small, so reservations are virtually mandatory. Ask about special deals for those who intend to see more than one performance. For reservations or additional casting information, call 646-4300.

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You may have missed last month's Theatre League production of "West Side Story," but that's hardly the last of the star-crossed lovers we'll be seeing in Ventura County this year.

The ARTS company will be mounting "West Side Story" in Simi Valley, and the Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival will present (for those who don't like Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's score) "Romeo and Juliet" on the Cal Lutheran lawn; both shows are slated for July.

A third "West Side Story," to have been produced at Moorpark College, has been replaced on the schedule by "Grease!" Be careful what you wish for . . . .

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Todd Everett can be reached at teverett@concentric.net.

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