Performances a ‘Love Letter’ to victims
By Shari Goldstein Stern
On Saturday, Oct. 5 the Grace Loncar Foundation will offer two performances of A.R. Gurney’s Pulitzer Prize nominated play, “Love Letters,” starring Sue Loncar and Earl Browning, Jr. at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts (Booker T.) at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Proceeds of “Love Letters” will benefit an annual $10,000 scholarship to be awarded by the foundation to a Booker T. senior upon graduation in honor of the community’s beloved Grace Loncar. This will be Sue’s first time back on stage since the losses of her daughter, Grace and her husband, Brian.
“Love Letters” is the story of two friends, Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, who have engaged in a 50-year relationship based entirely on correspondence, hand-written letters and cards. Their’s is a history and friendship that has survived the years. They have shared their lives with each other from second grade through summer vacations, college and into adulthood, including talk of their hopes, ambitions, dreams, disappointments, wins and defeats. Each still faces the question of whether they have made good choices, or is the love of their life a postage stamp away?
R. Gurney’s play was first produced in 1988. The story takes place in the 1930s through the 1980s and has been performed in venues throughout the years with such names in the two roles as Alan Alda, Martin Sheen and Candice Bergen. Also appearing have been Carol Burnett, Mia Farrow, and Stacy Keach.
In 1999, Gurney adapted “Love Letters” for a television movie starring Laura Linney and Steven Weber. In 2016, Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw, from the movie “Love Story,” brought “Love Letters” to Dallas.
The Grace Loncar Foundation’s mission is: “Helping teens and young adults fight depression while raising awareness about mental health.” The organization has received many impressive contributions, like a generous $10,000 gift from Highland Park High School’s Student Council.
“We currently have several initiatives and programs within local schools and throughout the community helping to educate and equip on the topic of mental health,” said Sally Conway, executive director of the Grace Loncar Foundation.
The foundation was formed in 2016. In November 2016, Sue buried her youngest of six children, 16-year-old Grace, and the grieving mother says her life will never be the same. Her daughter took her own life.
A week later, Sue’s husband, Brian, was found in his car outside his office. His death was ruled accidental from an overdose of cocaine.
According to the grieving wife and mother, Grace suffered from depression and first attempted suicide at the age of 11, and her father had suffered from bipolar disorder and addiction.
“Not everyone who is depressed kills herself, but everyone who kills herself is depressed,” explains the grieving mother and widow.
Sue shared: “Although a teenager might be willing to talk to a peer about her feelings of hopelessness, she doesn’t know how to tell her parents or another adult. That’s where the stigma begins.”
She added: “I want the foundation to help de-stigmatize depression. I want those struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide to understand that depression is not a choice, but it is a disease, like cancer and diabetes.” Those suffering need medical help. There are groups for families of suicide victims. According to Sue, “Those who commit suicide aren’t victims. Their families, friends and everyone in their lives are the victims.”
Grace was an experienced actor like her mother, with credits at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas and others. “One of Grace’s greatest strengths was empathy for the underdog. She built up others. But she could show great love and compassion for others, but not for herself. And she never believed she was talented,” her mother said.
This is Sue’s fourth time to perform “Love Letters,” and with the same co-star. “Earl Browning III has ridden this ride with me for 18 years. I feel so familiar with the play that I’m not so nervous,” the actor said. “It’s a lovely, simple play. This will be first thing I’ve done since losing Grace and Brian.”
The widow remarked: “I recently closed Contemporary Theatre of Dallas (CTD), the theatre I founded, so now I’ve lost my role as artistic director. I’ve spent a lot of time being a mother to six children. Now I’m still fulfilling the role of mother to the rest of my family, but I don’t have the role of wife.”
Loncar encourages all community members to keep these numbers on your cell and refrigerator: National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255 (24/7); North Texas Crisis Hotline 214-828-1000; Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas at 214-824-7020; Parkland Psychiatry Emergency at 214-590-8761; or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HELLO to 741-741.
Support groups are available for those victims, including Survivors of Suicide and Suicide and Crisis Center. Contact Jenyce Gush at 214-824-7020 or 214-828-1000. The group meets four times a month serving North Texas with no fee.
To contact the foundation, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Grace and the foundation, visit graceloncarfoundation.com/graces-story.