Sunday, May 01, 2005

'Love Letters' starring couple is far from stationary

Rialto performance: Famous husband and wife take stage

Traditionally, it's good luck to tell an actor to break a leg before a live performance.

But Jill St. John wants everyone to know she's recovering well from the February skiing accident that resulted in a fractured hip.

"She's a very lucky lady," said her husband, Robert Wagner, during a recent phone interview.

"Of course," he mused, "being married to her, I'm a very lucky man."

St. John said she was moved by the number of cards and letters she received after her accident.

"I was overwhelmed by all the good wishes," she said. "(Written communication) is very special, so I wrote many letters thanking people for their thoughts."

Letters are what tell the story of a relationship spanning 50 years in A.R. Gurney's "Love Letters," which the couple will appear in May 7 at the Rialto Square Theatre.

The play chronicles, solely through correspondence, the lifelong relationship between a man and woman. The writings follow the characters from their meeting in second grade to middle age.

"It's a beautifully written story," Wagner said. "Good writing is an actor's dream. There are challenges. There's happiness and sadness. There's humor, but there are also missed opportunities. Like the best stories, it's a lot like real life."

In real life, there seem to be few opportunities that Wagner has missed.

His career includes more than 50 years of starring roles in movies and television. He's known for classic television series — such as "Hart To Hart" and "It Takes A Thief" — as well as recent roles in the "Austin Powers" film series and TV's "Hope And Faith."

St. John has appeared in many television shows and more than 30 movies, appearing with Frank Sinatra in "Tony Rome" and Sean Connery's James Bond in "Diamonds Are Forever." She also hosted "Good Morning America's" cooking segment for three years.

Both screen veterans said they enjoy the challenge of performing in front of a live audience.

"It's a privilege to be on the stage," Wagner said. "Whatever you do lasts for just a moment between you and the audience. Once it's in the air, it's gone and you'll never repeat it exactly the same way. Each time is different."

St. John said she found the needed physicality to be the biggest difference.

"If you have a quiet moment on film, they bring everything close to you. On stage you have to project your voice to be heard without losing the emotion of the scene," she said.

Both feel their off-stage relationship helps their performance and vice-versa.

"It's great to work with someone you can trust when you're out there," Wagner said.

"And it's easier off-stage knowing that you're working toward the same goals," St. John said.

In addition to performing, St. John is writing a series of three new cookbooks.

Wagner will be seen in "The Fallen Ones," which premieres on the Sci-Fi Channel on May 14. He's also producing a few upcoming movies.

"We're the quintessential show-biz family," Wagner said. "Our bags and makeup are always packed and ready to go."

For this production, St. John hopes audiences will be able to relate to the characters.

"It's a very personal story, but it shows the human condition," she said. "People of any age, from any level of society will be able to appreciate both the problems and the happiness that they see in the play."

"And," Wagner said, "I hope they fall more in love."

"Love Letters" will be at the Rialto Square Theatre for a dinner theater engagement at 6 p.m. May 7. A limited number of seats are available. Show-only tickets, for the 8 p.m. curtain time, will be sold too.

Tickets are $65.50 for the dinner theater or $42.50 for the show only. Tickets can be purchased by visiting the Rialto box office, at 102 N. Chicago St. in Joliet; by calling (815) 726-6600 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Mondays to Fridays or 9 a.m. and noon Saturdays; or by going to Tickets also may be purchased through all Ticketmaster outlets; call (312) 902-1500 or visit

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