HART's 'The Loves of Elaine' will fill your heart with memories

By Mary Ann Enloe | Apr 12, 2017
Photo by: Donated photo C.J. Deering and Lyn Donley perform a scene from 'The Loves of Elaine' at HART theater.

Attend HART's newest, "The Loves of Elaine," prepared to fall in love with star Lynn Donley's mother. You already love Donley. Now you'll understand why.

Donley sets the scene in the opening night's performance of the two-woman narrative about her mother, Elaine, and Elaine's love letters:
"My mother lived to be 94. When it was time to clear out her belongings, the last thing we tackled was a trunk," said Donley. The glamorous HART favorite pointed to the trunk center stage, then opened it and held up to the audience dozens of letters, bound in packets of ribbons, many of which were bordered in the familiar red-and-blue of 1960s airmail.

Donley's program notes tell us about Elaine, "...After her divorce in 1961...it wasn't too long until she fled to the suburbs....We knew she had male friends.  We met them. But the extent of these relationships, the number of them, the depth of them, we did not know. We did not know the loves of Elaine."

Enter CJ Deering, stage left. Deering is a commanding silver-haired beauty of a certain age who engages her audience from her first spotlight. Formidable in real life, Deering and Donley project their personalities 10-plus when before an audience. No namby-pambies, these two. You don't have to wonder what either of them is saying.  They know their message and they know how to get it across.

Deering propels the on-stage prolog: "We were at the Donleys' New Year's Eve party and Lynn began telling me about all these letters of her mother's that she had found. I got really excited and said, 'We have to do something with these'.   So, we have."

The result is one of cleverest, most endearing two-character plays I have seen or read.

This is Donley's mother's story and Donley has to tell it, but the crux of it is, Elaine slays men. They fall at her feet, sometimes within hours. Then letters to Elaine follow, those too sometimes within hours. Elaine kept the letters--from Bill and Bob and George and Randall and others — in a trunk for decades.

"My mother had 'it'," says an animated Donley to the audience. "Some of you in this room had 'it'.  You might not have said so, but you did and you knew it," she continued, jabbing toward the audience.

You'll see from Donley's lovely enlarged photopraphs that Elaine was a beautiful woman. She divorced in her 40s — a divorce that Donley says was "right." Elaine's two children were grown and her decorating business in Washington, D. C., was thriving. She owned and sailed her own boat on Chesapeake Bay.  She loved the tropics, particularly Club Meds, and men flickered toward her like fireflies to a lantern.

Their letters, poems and flowers often arrived at her condominium in Washington only a day or two after she got home from their trysts in the tropics.  Always they closed their long hand-written letters with intense ardor.  (Except for the German statesman--he wrote of his love on pocket cards from the dry cleaners).

Men were willing to leave their jobs and existences to follow Elaine to the ends of the Earth — or at least to Washington — after a week or two of rum punches and sailing in southern seas. It was heart-wrenching to hear Donley read the words of her mother's paramours who truly believed they had met the love of their life in the 'it' girl, Elaine — only to realize after awhile that life is real and one must return to it.

One lover wrote poetry that, the way Donley reads it, will take your breath away. The script is peppered with much levity and you'll find yourself laughing when you didn't expect to. Donley's and Deering's comments, some clearly "off" the script they had prepared, are jewels. It's rare to see two attractive, talented actresses playing off each other with such ease.

"The Loves of Elaine" is clearly an act of love about love.  And it isn't just for women. From the nods of men in the audience, they could have been the men who wrote letters to Elaine. Many of them fell for their 'it' girl once — or more.

If the 1960s was your decade, and you were of the age to make your own decisions and follow your heart to Bermuda and back,  please savor the loves of Elaine, and please savor your own.

HART's "The Loves of Elaine" will flood your heart with memories long submerged, thanks to Lynn Donley's and CJ Deering's exquisite homage to Elaine.

Lynn Donley and CJ Deering should take "The Loves of Elaine" on the road. Showings will continue this weekend at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m.