Monday, December 17, 2012



Letter writing is a lost art in this age of instant messaging, emails and tweets.  Taking a pen to paper, heavy vanilla cream vellum, is a pleasure few indulge in with any consistency.  How delightful, therefore, to enjoy the exchanges that span three decades and several continents between two literary giants.

Sarah Ruel has penned a world premiere play "Dear Elizabeth" focusing on the lengthy correspondence of two close friends, the poets Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, at New Haven's Yale Repertory Theatre until Saturday, December 22.  This lyrical waltz of words records the deep friendship that marks their relationship.

Both are gifted in their own right, he having won a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Book Award and both earning a Pulitzer and both serving as the equivalent of what would be called Poet Laureate today.  Their paths crossed  often, but more likely they were at opposite sides of the globe, he in Italy, she in Brazil, he in Maine, she in Key West.  Mary Beth Fisher's Elizabeth and Jefferson Mays' Robert, who went by Cal, capture the spirit of these two literary legends.

No matter where they were, they wrote:  letters, postcards, manuscripts, telegrams, hundreds of which survive.  They met in 1947 and continued their correspondence until Lowell died of a heart attack in 1977.  Each considered the other a "best friend." At one point, Lowell almost asked her to marry him, but it was destined not to be.

Through their many problems, her asthma and alcoholism, his mental illness, they supported each other, sharing thoughts to bolster and boost spirits.  Called a "poet's poet," it was not unusual for each to mail the other newly completed works for comments and criticism.  Les Waters directs this gentle exchange with an understanding hand.

For tickets ($20-96), call the Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven at 203-432-1234 or online at Performances are Tuesday - Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Saturday at 2 p.m.

Calling upon the elements of nature, from water to planets to the moon, Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell promise each other a starry eternity.

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