by Paul Ruffolo
Carrie Hitchcock as Elizabeth Bishop and Norman Moses as
Robert Lowell in “Dear Elizabeth.” The featured
performers are married to each other. The play explores the
lives and relationship of two 20th-century poets. The
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre production runs through Oct. 18.
Anchored by a strong script by Sarah Ruhl and stellar performances
by Norman Moses and Carrie Hitchcock, the lives of poets Robert
Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop are brought to light in the Milwaukee
Chamber Theatre’s second offering of the 2015-16 season.
This play was
based on 30 years (1947-77) of more than 400 letters exchanged
between these two writers. Though
quite different in their poetic styles and life histories, they
struck a chord with each other and remained close friends their
whole lives. Their friendship hovered somewhere between platonic
Bishop was a
private person and her published output was quite lean.
Lowell, on the other hand, was much more flamboyant in his
personality and prolific in his literary output.
Both poets received national acclaim, though Lowell was
much more in the public eye. Both poets also had problems with
depression and alcoholism, Lowell spending some years in a mental
institution being treated for bipolar disorder, formerly labeled
A simple but
eye-catching set design by Steve Barnes consists of two desks and
a peripheral trench of water that figures into some of their
travels. Clever! Marie Kohler’s direction provided good pacing
to keep us interested throughout.
many years in Brazil and had a torrid love affair with a powerful
Brazilian woman architect, Lota de Macedo Soares, a woman who
eventually committed suicide and broke Bishop’s heart. Out of
that tragedy, one of her best poems, “One Art,” emerged.
Kearns’ article “Two Poets, One Art” sums up the difference
between them -”If Bishop’s poems are gems, Lowell’s are
chandeliers, bursting with immense energy that glitters through
historical, social, and theological facets.” Lowell’s works
are also much more personal, something that Bishop criticized him
fascinating play is full of allusions to many other literary
figures, and the ever-changing flavor of the art of poetry in the
20th century. Moses and Hitchcock, a talented pair of actors who
are married to each other, definitely connect in this one.
AT A GLANCE
The play runs
through Oct. 18 in the Studio Theater in the Broadway Theater
Center at 158 N. Broadway St., Milwaukee. Call 414-291-7800 or