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'Love Letters' performance to benefit Plut Scholarship

Joe Plut speaks at an event at Central Lakes College in Brainerd. Plut, a former CLC teacher, known as the "Mad Hugger" passed away Jan. 17 and one of the plays he was a part of titled "Love Letters" will be brought to life in a special event at Prairie Bay. Submitted Photo

Central Lakes Community Performing Arts Center and the Central Lakes College Foundation will team with Prairie Bay Grill and Catering to present A.R. Gurney's "Love Letters" Feb. 24. The performance will be at Prairie Bay's Baxter restaurant, and all proceeds will go to the Joseph Plut Scholarship Fund. Since 2010, 23 CLC students have received more than $11,000 in scholarships from the Plut Scholarship Fund.

"Love Letters" was first produced at Central Lakes College in 1994 with the late Plut, a longtime instructor at the college and a local actor, and the late Coral Stein.

"At that time, we planned this as a summer theater production with a limited run of two weekends," stated CLC Theater Director Patrick Spradlin, who directed the initial production, in a news release. "However, the show was so popular with our audiences that we brought it back on for over 26 performances over the next three years."

Spradlin stated the play also traveled to other locations during this time.

"We performed at Blue Cloud Abbey at St. Ben's," Spradlin stated. "There was a Willmar businessman who heard about the show and paid to have it performed twice in a Willmar theater for his loyal customers.

"A big reason for the play's popularity was its actors. Joe wasn't an actor, although he'd done some plays over his lifetime. But he connected immediately with the material of the play.

Coral was a tremendous actor, and appeared in many theater productions over the years. The two of them had a strong, natural chemistry."

The play chronicles the lives of two people, Andy and Melissa, from grade school through their later years. It's told entirely through correspondence between the two through letters, postcards, hastily scribbled notes, Christmas cards, birthday cards, invitations and other written communiques.

"It's a simple story, but emotionally powerful," Spradlin stated. "The play is meant to be read, rather than physicalized with full-body acting. While this may seem uninteresting at first blush, it's really quite engaging.

"I think Joe embodied the idea of this play: the importance of staying in touch with the people who matter in your life. Joe did this, often in the very way that Gurney's play does, with notes and letters and cards."

Spradlin will be joined in the performance by Laura Brutsman Busch. Busch is a Julliard-trained actor who has lived most of her life in Brainerd. She has appeared in numerous productions, most recently as the iconic harridan mother Amanda in "The Glass Menagerie."

"This production of the play is in no way meant to replace what Joe and Coral were so wonderful in doing," Spradlin stated. "It's meant as an homage to Joe, and to Coral, and to benefit a scholarship fund Joe established before his death."

Prairie Bay was Plut's favorite restaurant. 3 Cheers Hospitality LLC, which operates Prairie Bay, Sherwood Forest and Lost Lake Lodge, named a room at Prairie Bay after Plut and the booth he always sat in bears his name as well. 3 Cheers also does the food service at CLC, christening the cafeteria as the Mad Hugger Café in honor of Plut's legacy.

A social with light appetizers and a cash bar will begin at 5 p.m. with Act I of "Love Letters" beginning at 6 p.m. Tickets are $50 and are available from the CLC Foundation, and may be purchased online at Seating is limited to 50 audience members, so early purchase is recommended. For more information, call 218-855-8135.