The Scene

Special delivery of ‘Love Letters’ to support Steel Beam Theatre of St. Charles

A.R. Gurney favorite comes to stage with six performances

Deborah Swinford will portray Melissa Gardner in "Love Letters," a benefit for Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles.

Featuring a special cast and director, the benefit production of “Love Letters” will be an expression of affection for audiences and for Steel Beam Theatre in downtown St. Charles.

Because an agency processing glitch has delayed key grants the theater counts on, it has necessitated an urgent need for alternative financing in the interim, said Steel Beam board member Rikki Lee Travolta of McHenry County. The former star of “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding” in Chicago and such touring productions as “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” Travolta decided putting on a show could come to the rescue in an entertaining way.

Rikki Lee Travolta will portray Andrew Makepeace Ladd III in A.R. Gurney's "Love Letters" in a benefit for Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles.

He and Deborah Swinford will star in A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters,” helmed by award-winning director Regina Belt-Daniels, who said the two actors have a great chemistry together.

“It’s a beautiful play … a 50-year correspondence between two characters,” said Belt-Daniels, noting they sit at separate desks reading their letters out loud. “I love Gurney. He’s so eloquent – he’s got the gift of language. It’s very witty at times and very wounding at times.”

Regina Belt-Daniels will direct A.R. Gurney's "Love Letters" in a benefit for Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles.

She likes the quote from late actor Brian Dennehy, who performed the show with Mia Farrow in 2014, paraphrasing: “You cannot stage a play more simply than this, and yet it’s about everything in life. First love, loss of opportunities, loss of life and loss of love.”

Travolta, who is a fan of the script, said he has the perfect co-star in Swinford: “This is just tailor-made for somebody of her wonderful talents.”

He said Steel Beam is a professional theater in the suburbs that puts on really quality work without access to massive production budgets.

“This is the other end of the spectrum – this is doing works that aren’t spectacle, but are about the work, about the writing, about the acting,” Travolta said.

The plan is to put on a really stellar production that is going to touch people’s hearts and make them think and make them appreciate the loved ones in their lives and raise money in the process, Travolta said, adding, “Buy a block of tickets or come on board as a sponsor” (

Travolta’s knowlege of theater and his background have been incredibly helpful, particularly on this fundraiser he has championed, said Catie Early, managing director at Steel Beam Theatre.

“I really love his enthusiasm and support, not to mention his talent … he’s bringing all of those things to us here at Steel Beam,” Early said.

The 81-seat venue has been entertaining theater fans for more than 20 years, nestled on the second floor of a historic building. It will cap its current season with “Steel Magnolias” from April 19 to May 12, and a production of Disney’s “Frozen Jr.” on its youth stage from March 7-17, part of its training program for young people in the arts. Serving as artistic director since 2015 is Marge Uhlarik-Boller.

In addition to its own productions, Steel Beam welcomes the comedy troupe Any Suggestions? Improv to its stage once a month, Early said, adding the space also can be rented for events including weddings. The theater is set in the heart of the downtown dining district.

Early said the shared experience provided by live theater is something very special.

“It’s sad to hear of all the Chicago theaters that had to close because of the pandemic and not getting audience numbers back,” she said. “I would urge our public to make the conscious choice to go and do things live and in person … that’s important.”


• WHAT: “Love Letters”

• WHERE: Steel Beam Theatre, 111 W. Main St. (Route 64), St. Charles

• WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23 to 25 and March 1 to 3

• INFORMATION: 630-587-8521,

Renee Tomell

Renee Tomell

Covering the arts and entertainment scene in northern Illinois, with a focus on the Fox River Valley.