Fringe Theater Present ‘Dear Elizabeth’

Fringe Theater presents Dear Elizabeth, by Sarah Ruhl in conjunction with the Key West Summer Stage at the Red Barn Theatre. The production runs four nights only, July 26-19 at 8pm.

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 and genuine affection. Bishop was an alcoholic and Lowell would probably be diagnosed as bi-polar today. Despite their struggles, they each regarded their friendship as a key element to sustaining them as they each navigated successful careers and very troubled lives.

Elizabeth Bishop’s father died before her first birthday, and her mother was committed permanently to a mental hospital soon after. “When you write my epitaph, you must say that I was the loneliest person who ever lived,” Bishop once told Lowell. She owned a home in Key West, published 101 poems in her lifetime, and was appointed the US Poet Laureate in 1949.

Elizabeth Bishop bought a home in Key West in 1938 with her then lover Louise Crane. She sold the home in 1941 after she and her subsequent lover Marjorie Stevens parted ways. Soon after she began to travel, but got no further than Brazil where she met the wealthy and vivacious Lota de Macedo Soares. The two women remained together for 16 years. It was during this time that Bishop composed some of her greatest poems. Lota committed suicide in 1967, and Bishop eventually returned to the United States where she taught, wrote, and continued her struggle against alcoholism and depression.

Robert Lowell won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and was appointed Poet Laureate in 1947. He wrote volumes of award winning poetry throughout his life, but Lowell also struggled with episodes of mania and depression throughout his life. Between 1947 and 1964, a period that included his winning the Pulitzer Prize, a marriage and birth of a daughter, and the publication of two of the most important books of American poetry, Lowell was hospitalized twelve times for mania.

A recent article in the New Yorker said about Lowell, “He knew, too, what it was like to reemerge from these states, to reencounter his friends and family, to apologize to his peers, to reconnect with his young daughter, and then, cruelly, to feel the entire process start to quicken and again take hold. This is the critical point about Lowell as a writer: he had been straitjacketed, he had been physically violent, he had been shaken to his fundament with regret, he had been wounded deeply by wounding others. To create a life, along with a body of work that reflected it, was to find and follow the thread inside the maze.”

From 1947 until Lowell’s death in 1977, Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop exchanged correspondences.

Lowell and Bishop periodically visited each other and even dedicated poems to each other, but it is their letters, all 459 of them, that speak to their dedication to each other. And it is these letters on which Fringe Theater’s production of Dear Elizabeth is based.

Dear Elizabeth is directed by Fringe’s Artistic Director Rebecca Tomlinson and features Key West Andrew D. Cannady and Paula Cabot along with cellist Denise Nathanson.

Tickets for Dear Elizabeth are $25 and are available online by going to www.redbarntheatre.com or call 305-296-9911. Dear Elizabeth runs four nights only, July 26-29 at 8pm. A limited number of tickets for Theatre XP’s current production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are also available.

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.