MAYVILLE - There is an old and respected saying which goes ''Physician, heal thyself.''
Like most old sayings, its meaning is open to interpretation, but I've always taken it to mean that someone should take his own advice, especially before offering it to others.
There is another old saying which goes ''A person who serves as his own attorney, has a fool for a client.''
Both of these pieces of advice may come in handy in the near future.
The situation behind all of this rumination is that, after decades of retirement, I have recently been convinced to go back onto the stage, as an actor. On Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, I will be appearing at Webb's Captain's Table Restaurant, in a dinner theater production of the play ''Love Letters,'' by Buffalo-born playwright A.R. Gurney.
We'll see whether either or both of these are equally true: ''Critic, review thyself,'' or ''A writer who writes about a play in which he appears himself has a fool for a subject.''
This week, I decided I should treat the production exactly as I would a similar one in the same venue, at the same time, which didn't involve me. Since I do review myself, each year, on the anniversary of the first publication of this column, I've been known to interview myself, but we won't go that far, this time.
So, let me tell you a bit about Gurney and something about ''Love Letters,'' and finally, something about the actors who will be appearing at Webb's.
It's a great opportunity to do something special with your sweetheart on Valentine's Day, or a great way to take your mind off the fact that you're hanging with the guys or the gals on that day, and it's a wonderful piece of theater, so let me share the details, before I go off with more information.
If you're interested, you can purchase dinner at Webb's plus the show for $40 per person. That begins at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 14. If you only want to watch the play, admission is $10, and you should be in your seat by 7:30 p.m. For reservations, phone 753-3960.
In the unlikely possibility that you've never been there, The Captain's Table is located on Route 394, between Mayville and Chautauqua. The restaurant shares the site with the motel, the candy and gift shop, etc.
Albert Ramsdell Gurney, Jr., was born in Buffalo on Nov. 1, 1930. He is a novelist and a playwright, who has had more than 40 plays professionally produced, including some which have had long and successful runs on Broadway. His works include comedies, dramas, musicals, and even an opera libretto.
Gurney has always used his initials, rather than his Christian names, in connection with his publications, and is known by those who interact with him personally as ''Pete.''
Although he was sent away from Western New York at a young age, having attended prep school in New England, Williams College, in Massachusetts, and the Yale School of Drama, he continues to set a great many of his writings in Buffalo.
The connection between Buffalo and Chautauqua County is complex, to say the least. I've heard it said, frequently, that Jamestown is twice as far from Buffalo as Buffalo is from Jamestown. Probably the same thing is said about Dunkirk.
Chances are, if you belong to an organization which operates in both locations, the meetings and activities take place in Buffalo. When the events are in Buffalo, the participants who live there will rattle on about how easy it is to drive from here to there, what a pleasant drive it is, along the lake shore, what good quality roads there are, and the like. No question, we should jump into our cars, post haste.
However, if you suggest that a few of the meetings or events might be held here, the same people will frequently tell you that our area is so far away from Buffalo, the weather is terrible, the traffic is difficult, and it takes up an entire day to make the trip. I guess the scientists are right when they say all things are relative.
Gurney has masterfully captured the eccentricities of the typical Buffalo personality, and people from our area are known to laugh aloud at performances of his works, not only because they're funny, but because they demonstrate things which we had sensed, but might not have really analyzed before.
Beyond the Buffalo characterizations, he understands deeply the lives and thoughts of what are commonly called WASPS: White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. His plays include the sheltered understanding of the world with which many of those people live. Those who think that WASPS have it easier will see in Gurney's works that they are as emotionally deprived, frustrated and angry as people from minorities.
His writings stir racism, sexism, religious prejudice, and many other such negatives, into the mixture, not judgmentally, and certainly not sympathetically, but because those elements would be present in the people he is writing about, so he has included them.
I know that ''The Snow Ball'' was recently done by the play reading group which centers around Chautauqua Institution in the off-season, and I've seen at least three Gurney plays performed at the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown.
''Love Letters'' was one of them, and it has been done a number of times in other venues, around this area, for reasons which I will explain below.
The playwright describes his most popular creation as ''Sort of a play.'' In his own words, he uses this terminology because ''It needs no theatre, no lengthy rehearsal, no special set, no memorization of lines, and no commitment from its two actors, beyond the night of performance. It is designed simply to be read aloud.''
When an organization chooses to stage a standard play, there often must be a huge investment in time and money, before the first customer plumps himself down in the first seat.
I know audiences are conditioned to think of the action on the stage as real life, so they often don't think of the amount of lumber which went into building that house on the stage, or the cost of buying, renting, or making the clothes those actors are wearing, the chandelier in the center of the stage, or the feather boa which the leading lady uses to lasso the hero.
As for the number of hours spent by professional people in rehearsal to do this all correctly, imagine what it would cost to hire five, or 15, or 40 plumbers or electricians for five weeks. Usually in our area, the professional cost is donated by the actors, but often at great expense to themselves, usually unappreciated.
''Love Letters'' is simply a man and a woman, who have been dear and valued friends with one another, throughout their entire lives. They sit on the stage, as though independent of one another, and read - in order - the letters they have exchanged with one another, throughout the 50-odd years in which they have been friends. The exchanges range from formal invitations to birthday parties and weddings to deep, overflowings of anger or anguish or joy.
The actors don't comment on their own letters, and they rarely comment on the other's letters, so the audience gets to invest themselves in thinking about whether the writers are telling the truth to each other, or even to themselves. So often, we reveal our own weaknesses and strengths while we think we're talking or writing something completely different. So do they.
Our younger readers will be astonished to learn that it wasn't very long ago that people couldn't tweet, text, poke, or even e-mail one another. Our leading man, one Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, loves writing letters. In perhaps his best single letter, he explains that he feels most alive when he's writing. He has his reader's undivided attention, free from any distractions or interruptions. He can choose the words and create the atmosphere.
His friend is Melissa Gardner Cobb. She has more money than Andy. She's more creative. He patterns his every thought on his father, whom he idolizes. She is the child of a broken marriage and both her parents have moved on with their lives, and neither has taken her with him.
Because she has nothing solid in her life, she comes to rely on him. Because his life is fixed and unyielding, he envies her freedom. They make each other angry. They make each other happy.
As the letters continue, the couple ages from second grade through advanced middle age. One theme which runs through Gurney's writings is his belief that while people inevitably age, they don't necessarily mature. If they do, they may mature much more in one area of their lives than they do in other areas.
Among the actors who have read Andy's letters from the stage have been Jason Robards, Edward Hermann, James Earl Jones, Philip Bosco, Richard Kiley, William Hurt, Christopher Reeve, Christopher Walken, George Segal, Stephen Collins, and Richard Thomas.
Among the actors who have read Melissa's letters have been Elizabeth Taylor, Kathleen Turner, Barbara Barrie, Julie Harris, Dana Ivey, Jane Curtin, Elizabeth McGovern, Elaine Stritch, Elizabeth Montgomery, Nancy Marchand, and Frances Sternhagen.
To my view all too often, writers focus in on one area of their characters' lives, and they get a bit preachy, beating almost to death their struggle against prejudice or their confidence in themselves, despite huge forces to the contrary, or whatever. In ''Love Letters,'' Gurney just gently and realistically opens his characters' lives for his audiences to examine. Sometimes his characters are wise. Sometimes they're foolish. Sometimes they're lazy, ignorant, silly, immature, over-wrought, and a thousand other things, but always they're human, just as we are.
There aren't any car chases, no murders, no armies of elves, no beheadings nor bombings. It's just about two people, in all their imperfections, who truly love one another.
I have been a fan of Jill Keating for many years. She is the siren who tempted me back onto the stage, and will be the leading lady in this production.
In our area, she is probably best known as a dance teacher and choreographer. She has her own dance studio in Mayville, and she has taught on the faculty of the Chautauqua School of Dance. Not long ago, also at Webb's, she performed the lead in a one-woman play, ''Shirley Valentine.''
She has acted the lead in professional productions of plays and musicals, danced and sang behind performers including Carol Lawrence and Dean Jones, appeared in films such as ''When Harry Met Sally'' and television shows, including ''The Equalizer.''
She has played principal roles with Roundabout Studio and Playwrights Horizons, in New York City. She has danced with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and played Frenchie in ''Grease'' and Winnifred the Woebegone in ''Once Upon a Mattress'' and Miss Hannigan in ''Annie,'' and Juliet's Nurse in ''Romeo and Juliet.'' All this, and so much more.
I grew up in the Pittsburgh area. I played my first role as part of the Christmas pageants at the United Methodist Church, although my first step onto the professional stage was as Old King Cole, in a children's fantasy play, at the tender age of 6.
''Send me my fiddlers three'' I would emote, with genuine passion.
Throughout school, there were plays and musicals of every kind, from ''My Fair Lady'' and ''Destry Rides Again,'' to ''The Mouse That Roared'' and ''As You Like It.''
In college I directed and performed in a number of things, sang in the touring choir, played the pipe organ in chapel, and sang roles in three operas. Fortunately, I was skilled enough as a critic to stop singing.
I directed a number of plays and musicals, during my years as a teacher, and in some cases, ended up on stage at the last minute because of an injury or some other problem for a student actor.
I started writing reviews for this and other publications in the late 1970s, and began this column in late March of 1980. Until now, I've been happy to stay in that role, not willing to leave concerts and plays unreviewed during the typical five-week rehearsal times of a play. Now, here's one which only required three rehearsals, so I gave it a try.
I hope you find it successful.
What a great treat it was, recently, to attend a performance at the Reg Lenna Civic Center, by blues singer Fernando Jones.
Jones shared the stage with a number of local musicians who are still part of the program of Infinity or who are graduates of that program. Sadly, their names were not in the printed program, or I would happily share them with you.
It's always a treat to attend our beautiful Civic Center, and to enjoy our community's long tradition of culture and quality.
Last week, we shared the news that MusicalFare, in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst, will perform the musical ''[title of show]'' through March 6.
This week, the company has announced that they will offer student rush tickets for only $9.99, to any performance which has not been sold out. The plot concerns two young writers who are trying to create a musical show, and shows you the many changes the script goes through before it is ready to open.
Rush tickets cannot be reserved by phone or by computer. Call the company or check their web site for details. Their phone number is 839-8539. Their web address is www.musicalfare.com.