Alda, Bergen ‘a very good match’ on Broadway
Alan Alda jumped aboard after getting past his doubts about the title. Candice Bergen joined him when she found out she’d be able to keep the script handy.
Both actors took over Nov. 9 as the star-crossed lovers in the Broadway production of A.R. Gurney’s play “Love Letters.” They replace Carol Burnett and Brian Dennehy.
Though friends for many years, the “M*A*S*H” and “Murphy Brown” stars have never worked together. And, while mostly known for their TV work, both are seasoned stage vets. Alda has been in “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Art” on Broadway, while his co-star has been in “Gore Vidal’s The Best Man” and “Hurlyburly.”
“I think we’re a very good match because we’re sort of these old TV war-horses,” Bergen says. “I’d much rather do it with someone who’s a friend because the play is about friendship and life and putting one foot in front of the other.”
The play is made up of letters, Christmas cards, birth announcements and notes between a woman and a man over decades, starting in 1937. We see their friendship and budding romance deepen, from birthday parties to high-school dances and rare meetings.
The way it’s presented seems deceptively easy: The actors come out, sit down at a desk and begin reading aloud from binders for the next 90 minutes. They never stand and only glance at each other at the end.
“It gives the actors such a challenge, way more than you’d expect when you hear what the requirements are,” Alda, 78, says. “That’s what’s fun. That’s what’s fun about being in this field. The simplest things are the hardest ones to do.”
Bergen, 68, agrees: “It’s fascinating for an actor because you’re so restricted. You can’t use any of your normal expressive tools. You can’t move, you can’t look at the other actor, which is just huge to be deprived of.”
Alda, who can be seen on “The Blacklist,” almost didn’t jump aboard. He’d never read the play or seen it performed and admits he had always been put off by its name.
“The title always made me think it was going to be a frivolous, gooey, lovey-dovey account of people pouring their hearts out to each other, and it’s very tough and interesting — emotionally and intellectually,” he says. “It’s about trying to get through life, not just being in love.”
Bergen also hadn’t read the play before but leapt at the chance to work with Alda. She was happy to discover that the script would be onstage with her the whole time.
“I just have very little memory left so lines have to be hammered onto my brain,” she says, laughing. “That was just enormously reassuring, frankly.”