Dear Ellen

Spouses Jack Bannon and Ellen Travolta perform “Love Letters” today and Friday at the Merc Playhouse in Twisp. Together for 35 years, the couple are active in the theater community at home in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho.

What: “Love Letters”

Where: Merc Playhouse, 101 S. Glover St., Twisp

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday

Cost: $25

Tickets and information: 997-7529 or

Of note: Tickets are also sold in advance at Trail’s End Bookstore in Winthrop and Daily Business in Twisp; admission includes a dessert buffet.

“Shall i compare u 2 a summer’s day? Ur more lovely & more temperate.”

It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? Texting can’t really do Shakespeare justice, but if you want a love letter anymore these days, it’s likely all you’ll get.

“The kids today, they text everything and they don’t even know how to spell,” says actress Ellen Travolta. “They do abbreviations of words, and even the art of conversation is beginning to fail.”

Travolta, 69, and her husband, Jack Bannon, 70, (of television’s “Lou Grant”), appear in Twisp Thursday and Friday for two benefit performances of A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters” at the Merc Playhouse. All proceeds go to the venue.

“Love Letters” is told between two characters reading letters to one another that span a lifelong companionship, “from the time they’re 7 years old until one of them dies,” explains Travolta. “It’s funny, it’s poignant. It’s a great vehicle for a fundraiser.”

Travolta says she and Bannon — who reside in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho — have performed the play several times over the years, including a production earlier this year at Spokane’s Interplayers Theatre.

Though well-known for her roles in TV’s “Welcome Back Kotter,” “Happy Days” and “Charles in Charge” (and for being actor John Travolta’s older sister), Travolta got her start in theater. She attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., and went on to do Broadway shows before entering a career in television.

“When my husband and I approached retirement, in that we were not actively pursuing the stuff that we had as younger actors, we started doing more theater again,” she reports. “We’re very active in Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre and we’ve done things at Interplayers, and it’s been fun.”

For the most part, Travolta has left her film and television days behind her, though she did have a role in last year’s “Falling Up,” starring Joseph Cross and Sarah Roemer. “We’re in that time where there’s not a ton written for our ages,” she states of Bannon and herself.

After Bannon performed “Visiting Mr. Green” at the Merc in 2007, the couple became friends with the theater founders Carolanne and Egon Steinebach. That friendship is what led to their return to the Methow Valley. “They came to visit us in the beginning of this summer, and we were talking” about fundraising opportunities for the Merc, Travolta informs, saying she was pleased to volunteer her time to help the playhouse.

During her 35-year relationship with Bannon, Travolta claims the couple have never exchanged love letters, but written “little notes” here and there. She does, however, value the “lost art.”

“I cherish someone’s hand sending me a note,” she says. “I save them.”

She refers to herself as a “purist,” preferring “to go backwards, or keep things the same.”

Travolta admits to not being very tech-savvy. “They call me Mrs. Fax,” she reveals. “I don’t know how to e-mail, I don’t know how to use a computer.”

Her two children, Tom Fridley and Molly Allen, keep up the Travolta family’s legacy of entertaining. Fridley has appeared in film and television, and Allen is a Spokane radio personality at 92.9 ZZU, doing a regular morning show with Dave Sposito and Ken Hopkins. “She’s a celebrity in her own right,” says Travolta.

Abby Holmes: 661-6390