Dallas' Patrick Duffy and Happy Days' Linda Purl star in play Love Letters at Bury St Edmunds' Theatre Royal
"We feel very fortunate," says Happy Days' Linda Purl as I interview her and Dallas' Patrick Duffy about their upcoming Theatre Royal show.
The pure joy between this real-life romantic couple is palpable as they chat to me over Google Meet about A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, which they are starring in at the Bury St Edmunds theatre.
Love Letters, which is on at the Theatre Royal from June 9 to 11, will see them play a couple on stage, as well as being one off it, which will no doubt be an interesting dynamic for viewing audiences.
Duffy, who iconically played Bobby Ewing in TV drama Dallas, and Purl, whose TV credits include The Office (US version) and Homeland, have their own fascinating love story; after their paths crossed occasionally over 40 years their relationship developed over Zoom during the coronavirus pandemic.
Purl explains how three or so years ago they bumped into each other at an event in LA and Duffy said he was out of touch with mutual friend, actor Richard Thomas, so they all got connected in a chat.
Purl and Duffy, 73, who have three children between them, texted a bit, before moving onto Zoom, which saw them talk for hours every night.
"We had this opportunity of time when there was nothing on anyone's calendars. We were able to talk what became nightly for two to three hours on Zoom," says Purl.
"I think had it not been for the pandemic, that breath, that pause, that sort of oasis away from the world wouldn't have existed.
"We feel fortunate on so many levels but also really seeing how incredibly difficult, challenging, tragic Covid was for so many, we feel especially fortunate in our situation a lot of good came from it...it was trying in some ways, you bet, but we came out of it together."
While modern-day technology enabled their real-life relationship to bloom, Love Letters - which debuted in 1988 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama - is about two characters, Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, whose attachment over 50 or so years is played out through their notes, letters and cards to one another.
"Letters have a lasting emotional impact that even a recording might not necessarily have," says Duffy, who was originally introduced to viewing audiences as the lead in the sci-fi adventure series Man From Atlantis.
"It's a bit retro but it's also very forward looking in terms of the eternity of a relationship and being able to validate it through the written word."
Love Letters, which they have also performed in Belfast, is the first time they are playing a couple on stage while being a real couple, which they had discussed 'could have been a disaster'.
"'We are a couple that are in love, but what if we can't work together?'" says Duffy.
He adds: "We are representing a couple as a real-life couple. There's always a double attraction that the play has for the audience; they get to project their own relationship but then they get to see a relationship that they are somewhat familiar with played out in front of them."
Purl describes the show as 'a beautiful tracking of a life-long friendship between star-crossed lovers and it takes them from childhood meeting through the perils of youth through their adulthood'.
"We have seen it done by several actors over the course of the years and it's such a pleasure to do this wonderful play. It's deceptively simple, but it packs a punch. People laugh and they cry and we do too," she says.
Duffy adds: "It is, like Linda said, it's happy, there's a lot of laughs, there's a lot of tears. Everybody goes away emboldened in their quest for a relationship, which is wonderful."
In terms of how it differs from their previous work, Purl says 'just the intimacy of the piece': "It's a beautiful piece for the theatre because it boils it right down. There's no pyrotechnics, there's no turntables, there's no nothing.
"It's just two people on stage speaking their truth and speaking their truth from their heart."
Keeping with matters of the heart, performing in Love Letters, as well as their current UK tour of Catch Me If You Can, means the couple can spend more time together.
And Duffy says he would not choose work that took him away from Purl for months on end.
"It's just not feasible at this point in my life. It's not that important," he says. "The relationship is more important than the career so the fact that [producer] Bill Kenwright asked us to do this as a couple and now we get to do Love Letters as a couple within a couple, it's a perfect way to spend the six months in this beautiful country."
He adds: "We are very fortunate. We both wake up with such a sense of gratitude every day that our careers have taken this path...whatever happens from now on is great."
And Purl says: "It's remarkable. We feel very lucky because our fabulous cast mates...no-one else is able to travel with their families.
"We are sort of the only ones and it's just a gorgeous luxury and we frequently look at each other and think 'oh my God, we can't believe we are on this long adventure'."
- Love Letters is on at the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds from Thursday, June 9, to Saturday, June 11. Tickets are on sale now. See here to book.