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Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal are back in 'Love Letters'

Sun Sentinel
@Ryan_O_Neal & #AliMacGraw star in "Love Letters" play in Lauderdale:

Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal are getting back together.

It's been 45 years since the two starred in the mega-hit movie "Love Story," but now they are appearing together again in the epistolary play "Love Letters" from July 21 to 26 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.

"It wasn't my idea," director and producer Gregory Mosher admits. "Somewhere someone somehow got them involved in the project. Of course, when I heard about it, I said, 'Duh. Why didn't I think of that?'"

In the play by A.R. Gurney, two characters begin a relationship through letter writing when they are both 7 years old. For the next 50 years — through triumphs and tragedies, marriages and children, wars and celebrations — they share their lives, pouring out their secrets to each other. The play is staged on a bare set with two actors seated at a table reading out loud. Since its debut in 1989, "Love Letters" has starred the likes of Carol Burnett, Lynn Redgrave, Jason Robards, Charlton Heston, Sigourney Weaver, Mel Gibson, Elizabeth Taylor and Martin Sheen.

After the Fort Lauderdale premiere, MacGraw and O'Neal will tour with "Love Letters" to cities including Beverly Hills, Boston, Dallas, Detroit, Baltimore and Hartford, Conn.

"It's a very special experience. Usually with a play, you spend eight weeks trying to develop that kind of relationship, and they walk in the door with it," says Mosher, who also directed the revival of the play on Broadway. "I think this is the first cast I worked with where the actors knew each other really, really well. For the first time … there were these two saying, 'I knew you were going to say that' or 'That's just like you.' So they bring their own backstory. And they laughed and laughed."

Here are excerpts from an interview with O'Neal and MacGraw.

What was it like getting back together after all this time? Have you guys rehearsed yet? I know you've done some promo work for this play.

MacGraw: "Well, we've seen each other over these many years. The only thing we've done other than the promo stuff was a full read-through together with Mosher."

O'Neal: "Yeah, we rehearsed once. And it was fun. I thought I was back in 'Love Story.' Just older and bent. I was home again."

How did they get you two involved?

O'Neal: "They said, 'Would you like to see Ali again and be paid?' And with that, it was, 'I'll be packing now.'"

MacGraw: [laughing] "I read it years and years and years ago. And when they said it has been playing successfully on Broadway with people you know and then they say, 'You'll be doing it with Ryan.' … That's a no-brainer. 'Yes, please.' I love this … work. It's really touching without being in any way cloying."

Why do you think this play still works after all these years?

MacGraw: "I believe it. This is a world I remember. I went to school on scholarship in Connecticut in the late '50s. I find that these are people I know."

O'Neal: "I knew them, too."

MacGraw: "And to track them for 50 years, Ryan and I have been around a long time, and we've had every layer of that experience.

O'Neal: "It comes to life."

It's been awhile since either of you have been onstage. Any trepidation?

MacGraw: "It's a reading. I couldn't do it if it were memorization."

O'Neal: "I think the fact we are reading letters makes it more realistic. They're not able to connect. The timing is off. But they are perfect for each other … and you can see that."

What do you remember most about the phenomenon that "Love Story" became?

O'Neal: "I bet a lot of babies were born because of 'Love Story,' or a lot of marriages happened."

MacGraw: [laughing] "Certainly a lot of dates. It was a date-night movie. Really, it just gave us crazy access. It made … us movie stars overnight. To this day, I travel to very faraway parts of the world and they know it … All of a sudden, overnight, there were choices. And how do I say this? Approval. We had approval."

O'Neal: "I kind of liked it."

So I have to ask the famous question from the movie: Does being in love mean never having to say you're sorry?

MacGraw: [laughing] "Are you kidding? You know, that is really something a really seasoned actor having that moment would have said to the director, 'What does this mean?'"

O'Neal: [laughing] "You did say that."

MacGraw: "I did? I'm so relieved, or else I'm a moron."

O'Neal: "You said it on the porch. I remember because then you looked at me, and I looked cross-eyed at you. This story, it became a famous 'Love Story' book. But when we did the picture, there was no book. It was just this story that no one knew anything about yet. We had no idea it was going to become a classic. And that people would be asking us what it means after all these years. How dare they?"

MacGraw: "Yes, and for 44 years, we've been trying to explain."

"Love Letters" runs July 21-26 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $41.30-$88.50. To order, call 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org.

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