True, lasting, deep friendships are so rare that even if they’re fictional, they are a wonder to behold.
That’s the case with the world premiere of the heartwarming play, “The Christmas Letter Writing Club,” given a tender, affectionate production at Playcrafters Barn Theatre.
Playwright Tom Akers, who is school superintendent in Cambridge, has written published plays for students and this is his first intended for adult audiences. He has a naturalistic ear for the way women speak and interact, and we quickly bond and identify with the four protagonists here.
In the combination comedy and drama, the quartet — Jenn, Katie, Lisa, and Allison – reconnect some years after they first were close friends at the University of Wisconsin. At the end of the first joyous reunion, they decide to reconvene at one family’s lakeside cabin every October to renew their ties, while each of them writes the yearly summary of their lives for their Christmas letters to friends and family.
As 20 years of their lives unfold before the audience, the foursome draw strength from one another while sharing the accomplishments, failures, joys, and sorrows that make up their lives.
The cabin has been in Jenn’s husband’s family since the 1950s, so Playcrafters veteran Sara Laufer is the de-facto leader of the group and she is super friendly and supportive. Akers’ main moral here seems to be that good friends really are there for each other no matter what happens in their lives.
In “Christmas Letter Writing Club,” there are major life changes that happen – Lisa’s husband has an affair and they divorce; Allison’s son Lance is killed in war, and Jenn battles cancer.
Playcrafters director Madison Duling (who handles the intimate action with a caring, deft hand) wrote in the program that the play is so meaningful partly because she went to UW-Platteville for a year and a half, where she met her best friend — who quickly became family.
The new play resonates with so many because its shows how friends share memories and selflessly help each other through hard times (wine also helps, as we see!). Friendship is “the purest and most honest form of love,” Duling wrote.
The cast is uniformly excellent – Jaclyn Marta (a veteran director) as Allison, Mara Earp, making her Playcrafters debut as the snarky Katie, Elle Winchester as Lisa, Zach Zelnio as husband Michael (whose monologues open and close the show), and Noah Stivers as caretaker Joe. They’re a wonderful group worth raising a toast to.
The “Christmas Letter Writing Club” run will be completed tonight (Aug. 27) at 7: 30 p.m. and Sunday (Aug. 28) at 3 p.m. at the Barn Theatre, 4950 35th Ave., Moline.
Tickets are $12 ($10 for military and seniors), available on the theater website or by calling 309-762-0330.