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'Dear James' signed, sealed and ready for audiences

By Christina Killion Valdez

ckillion@postbulletin.com

Jon Hassler's beloved Agatha McGee returns to the stage in the Jon Hassler Theater's production of "Dear James."

"I asked him once who he felt closest to of all the characters he created," said Sally Childs, artistic director of the Jon Hassler Theater.

"Agatha now reports on his health," Childs said.

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The fictional woman also writes the theater's yearly donation letter and there's a new book about her life on the way. "The Staggerford Flood," expected out this fall, revisits Agatha, now 90 years old, Childs said.

Starting June 8, however, Agatha will star in "Dear James," a play Childs adapted from Hassler's second novel about Agatha.

Hassler wrote "Dear James" in 1986 after taking a trip to Assisi in Italy, Childs said. Agatha and her soulmate and nemesis Father James O'Honnon do the same in the book and the play, she said.

"It's a wonderfully freeing experience for her," Childs said about Agatha. "It unlocks some doors and lets some fresh air come into her life."

However, while Agatha is away, her housesitter, French, and his girlfriend, Emma James, come across the letters Agatha wrote James but never sent.

"Agatha is revealed down to her core," Childs said.

And French and Emma James are not too happy about some of the things Agatha has said.

Hassler, on the other hand, is pleased with the stage adaptation of the novel.

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"A number of people, including Jon, were giving me advice," Childs said recalling the adaptation experience.

She ended up boiling a town full of characters down to five people.

The play was first performed in 1997 by the Lyric Theater in Minneapolis. It's been tightened down a little more since, she said.

"Hassler's writing is sharp and witty and comic," Childs said. "He sees the absurdities of life.

"He's also not afraid to poke holes in the little balloons that we carry around about various issues and ethics," Childs added.

"Dear James" is the sequel to "Green Journey," but makes sense even to people who haven't read the novels.

"It's a great introduction to Hassler," Childs said.

A half-priced preview performance will be at 8 p.m. June 7. An ice cream social fund-raiser on the block of Hassler's boyhood home will precede the opening night performance on June 8.

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