SALEM – We pause to celebrate romance every February, proffering chocolates, wine and carefully chosen words of love. The wish is always to speak sincerely and with passion, but it isn’t easy.
The House of the Seven Gables to the rescue! The Gables offers a rare and special Valentine’s Day treat on Saturday, February 10, from 6 to 8 p.m., at The Gables’ Visitor Center, 115 Derby St., Salem. For the first time in more than a decade, The Gables presents a staged reading of some of the most eloquent love letters written by Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne during their courtship. A wine and chocolate reception beforehand sets a sensuous mood.
For more information about tickets and reservations, those interested may visit www.7gables.org. Reservations are recommended. Member tickets are $15, Creative Salem member tickets are $17.50 and General Admission tickets are $20.
Reading the prized love letters are a trio of respected North Shore personalities and performers. Karen Nascembeni, general manager at the North Shore Music Theatre, will read Sophia’s letters while Dana Hersey, host of the morning radio show at North Shore 104.9, will read Nathaniel’s. Narrating is Anne Lucas, actor, teacher and playwright, who also made the selections and wrote the narration that establishes the timeline and context.
“Nathaniel and Sophia were madly, passionately in love with each other,” says Karen Nascembeni. “And they worshipped, respected and adored each other. They were each other’s muses.”
Nascembeni and Hersey have a long and respectful professional relationship. They’ve worked together on the North Shore 104.9 radio show, where they enjoyed a similar sense of humor and a great chemistry. They also performed “Love Letters” together.
“I love reading opposite his big, booming voice, and in response to his very tender side, as well,” Nascembeni says. “I greatly admire him.”
Boston-area residents may remember Hersey as host of WSBK TV’s Movie Loft, where he introduced old movies with such erudition and enthusiasm he guaranteed audiences’ loyalty and abiding interest in old movies. His deep and resonant voice, theatrical at times, is beloved on the North Shore.
Hersey says he prepared for reading the letters by revisiting Hawthorne scholarship. “He was a complex character and truly unique as a writer. He was interested in the deep and dark nature of man, but he was also a romantic. He struggled, had to work, had to survive. There was a lot of adversity but in that struggle was the unflinching love he and Sophia had for each other. And the two of them never wavered in their love.”
The third member of the cast is Anne Lucas, a former professor at Salem State University, actor in television, movies and live theater, and now full-time playwright. On April 11 and 12, her play, “Silence,” will be performed at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. And her play, “Recovery,” will be performed at the Boston Playwrights Theater on March 24, before it moves on the New York City.
“Because the letters don’t answer each other, I will be the narrator, explaining where they are in their courtship,” Lucas says. “I provide the connective material so that the reading does have a play-like structure.”
Lucas sees Sophia and Nathaniel’s relationship as both passionate and transformative. “What their love did was transform their lives. He was a recluse, not comfortable in public. She was homebound because of debilitating headaches. By the time they move to Concord, she doesn’t have headaches at all. She is more outgoing, more social, more friendly. She made a bridge for him to the world. It was a transcendental belief that they shared – that their spirits transcended all the foibles of the physical, uplifting them to the divinity within themselves. These letters, so very romantic, so beautifully written, came from that philosophical belief.”