What’s the difference between writing novels and writing plays? Both involve the ancient craft of storytelling. Both use words as the essential building blocks. Beyond that, well . . . Having done both, here’s what a play means to me.
Standing Os. Cheers. People coming up to me and shaking my hand, saying thank you, telling me what my play meant to them. Face to face. Night after night.
We seldom get that response with our books. Perhaps at a book signing. Or when somebody writes a particularly flattering review. With my play Letters From The Front, I got it after every performance, year after year, all over the world.
I wish every writer was able to experience that.
After releasing my one (and so far, only) novel Unthinkable Consequences, I’ve often wondered how people responded when they read it. A few have been kind enough to leave enthusiastic reviews, but that was after they’d read the entire book and had time to analyze their feelings toward the work.
It’s very different with a play. The reaction is spontaneous and continuous. Night after night I sat in the dark with hundreds of others and watched and listened to their reaction while the performance was in progress. A laugh here, a tear there, a gasp, a groan, shuffling in their seats when their attention wasn’t being held completely, leaning forward when it was.
Do people react that way while they read our books? No doubt they do. We’re just not there to see it. Its been hard for me to get used to that.
That little observation aside, what is Letters From The Front about?
It’s been called an emotional roller coaster. I’ve watched audiences ride that roller coaster enough times to know that there’s evidently some truth to the statement. CBS Evening News called Letters From The Front “A patriotic tribute to the men and women who so bravely serve.” NBC’s Today called it: “A wonderful show.” The Shreveport Times said it was “A tear-jerking, hand-clapping, mind-blowing stroll through history.”
I guess it’s all those things.
Here’s the official blurb: This play weaves actual letters to and from soldiers and their loved ones going as far back as Valley Forge, into a story set during the waning days of WWII. The personal themes in the letters are honestly reflected, as is the commitment of everyday Americans to preserve freedom.
Popular essayist Katharine Hartgrove, whose son is fighting in Northern Italy, has been commissioned to write a play based on these letters. She enlists boyfriend, Johnny Chastain, America’s favorite radio wise guy, to assist her. He provides an unseen twist to the story, along with plenty of comic relief. When the laughter and tears subside, Johnny is the most unlikely of heroes and Katharine is healed from emotional scars that have haunted her for 20 years.
Letters From The Front is a heartfelt and surprisingly humorous story of heroism, hope, and redemption.
Okay, but to me what the play is about is better summed up by a statement made by Katharine Hartgrove midway through the show:
“To me, this play isn’t about individual wars or the politics behind them or who was right or who was wrong. It’s about the fragile and precious nature of life. It’s about everyday people who suddenly came face to face with their own mortality, or the prospect of losing a loved one. It’s about people reaching out to each other, maybe for the last time. Each of these letters was affirmation on the part of the writer that at their darkest moment they were not alone.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s about people, what’s in their hearts, who they love, how they deal with life’s adversities. At the core is a conflict of massive proportions – World War II. Millions are thrown into the conflagration.
But Letters From the Front focuses on just two people as they struggle to understand, adjust, put events into some sort of meaningful perspective, and discover the depth of their love for each other.
Maybe the song As Time Goes By captures the sentiment best: “It’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory.”
Inside the playbill handed out as people enter the theater there is a comment card. Over the years we’ve collected tens of thousands of them. Here are examples of comments from people who have seen the show.
~~ “I was touched beyond belief. I am a better person for having seen your show.”
~~ “I have never been so deeply touched as I have been with this production. You have brought the reality of the home front to light with such clarity and tenderness.”
~~ “You broke my heart and brightened my day. Fantastic!!”
~~ “Some of the best theater I have seen. Better than most from Boston and New York. Impressed!”
~~ “Uniquely heartwarming, tearjerking, hits home hard. Thanks.”
~~ “At the base of every conflict is the men and women who have fought it. The wants, needs, desires, and fears never change no matter the time or place. Your group presented this in a truly memorable way. P.S. I cried about ten times.”
~~ “It was without a doubt one of the most touching and patriotic shows I have experienced. It was filled with humor, tears, laughter, sadness, and a wonderful sense of being an American.”
~~ “Hits close to home, close to the heart.”
I hope you’ll take the time to read Letters From The Front. Being a play, it’s a fast read. It’s available both in print and Kindle at http://goo.gl/ZQQGqN. You can learn more about the play itself at the blog https://lettersfromthefronttheater.wordpress.com/