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Parents’ 900 World War II love letters inspire playwright’s latest work

Feb 20, 2017

Two young people kept their love alive throughout World War II with letters – hundreds of them.

David Kiley, an Ann Arbor writer and director, used his parents’ letters to write his new play, I’ll be Seeing You. He spoke to Stateside about the book and play he wrote based on those letters.

The book, Writing The War: Chronicles of a World War II Correspondent, collects the letters written by his father Charles and mother Billee during their courtship throughout World War II.

“My father was very private, and he said I could do anything I want to with them after he was gone,” Kiley said. “But it took my sister and I some years to edit them.”

The archive included nearly 900 letters, some handwritten, some typed and some printed on microfilm called Victory Mail, which was used by the military to make letters lighter to transport.

The correspondence was very personal, Kiley said, but sharing the story is a labor of love for him.

Kiley wrote, directed, and acts in the play. The story focuses primarily on the characters of his parents, Charles and Billee, but also includes two radio singers and a wartime radio announcer for context and texture.

In the play, Charles recounts the dramatic milestones of the war along with the quotidian.

“Did I tell you?” Charles wrote. “The water supply is not safe, so we are brushing our teeth with champagne.”

Kiley designed the play as a “pop-up” to play in short runs. All the proceeds will go to support Kiley’s theater review website, Encore Michigan.

“In any given time, about 75 to 80 active, professional theater companies [operate] around the state,” Kiley said. “And they just don’t get covered anymore.”

Kiley said he thinks the play reminds viewers of a time when America pulled together for one cause.

“I think we need some of that, and I think the audiences are looking for some of that too, I hope,” he said.

The play I'll be Seeing You premieres on February 24, 25, 26 at The Arthur Miller Theatre in Ann Arbor. 

A block of tickets will be given away to veterans for free. For more information, click here.

Listen the full conversation above.

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