Dann Peterson and Maggie Bearmon Pistner.
Photo courtesy Theatre in the Round Players
Lynn Musgrave has had her eye on 84 Charing Cross Road for many years, but it wasn't until she started to really dig into the play as the director of the upcoming Theatre in the Round Players production that she truly got inside the work.
However, that process did not include watching the well-known movie starring Ann Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. "My friends told me that they had the DVD, but I kept saying no. I made it a point that the play is the play," Musgrave says.
The story follows the correspondence between a young, struggling New York author, Helene Hanff, and the employees of a London bookstore, especially manager Frank Doel. While the correspondence starts in 1949 as a way for Hanff to find books unavailable in America, it turns into a long-distance friendship, as she and the staff and the bookstore exchange letters and even care packages for the next 20 years.
Musgrave's familiarity with Theatre in the Round, the performers, and the artistic staff made the transition of the play from a proscenium staging to the unique challenges of the arena easier. The show features a company of eight, including Maggie Bearmon Pistner as Helene Hanff and Dann Peterson as Frank Doel.
The story, whether in book, play, or film form, is charming to its core. Hanff would send care packages to the London staff, who were still amid food rationing in post-war England. They, in turn, would help her find the obscure tomes that she wanted. "That became very useful when she started working in television and needed plots," Musgrave says.
Part of the charm of the story is the concrete side of the correspondence: the books. There is something special about used books, as it connects us to the previous reader or readers of that particular volume.
Even rereading your own books can bring back memories. "If I'm rereading something and I see a coffee stain on the page, I can think back to the day when I spilled the coffee. Then I can think about what made me spill the coffee that day," Musgrave says.
And while the nature of the correspondence may seem quaint to modern eyes -- they communicated via letters (letters!) -- for two decades, never meeting face to face, Musgrave does see a modern analogy.
"I have made a lot of friends on Facebook that I would have never known otherwise and only know on Facebook," she says, noting that the online correspondences mean she made far-flung connections, just like Helene, Frank, and the staff of Marks and Co.
84 Charing Cross Road
Theatre in the Round
245 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
Friday through December 9
For tickets and information, call 612.333.3010 or visit online.