'Letters' Sends a Politician Back to the Stage : Theater: Iowa Rep. Fred Grandy, who was Gopher on TV's 'The Love Boat,' performs with his wife in a benefit show.

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Rep. Fred Grandy (R-Iowa) walks onto the stage here tonight for the first time in nearly eight years since he traded a career in theater and television for one in politics.

Grandy, and his wife, Catherine Mann, author of three novels and a former TV journalist, will perform A. R. Gurney's two-character play "Love Letters" at Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater in a special benefit performance. Currently one of the hottest tickets in town, the $75 orchestra seats have been sold out for weeks.

"I've been checking the box office," laughs Grandy, a 44-year-old Harvard honors graduate who appeared for several years on the New York stage before a 10-year stint as Gopher Smith, the purser on the ABC series "The Love Boat."

Mann, once an aspiring actress, was the editor of Teen magazine, then launched a television career at KCBS-TV Channel 2 in Los Angeles. She became a correspondent for "Entertainment Tonight," and met Grandy when she interviewed him in 1982 on the set of "The Love Boat." They were married in 1987.

The duo's performance in this romantic drama between two people who are married to others, and told through a lifetime of letters, will benefit the Living Stage Theater Company. Living Stage is the 27-year-old social outreach company of Arena Stage, whose actors use improvisational theater to work with groups ranging from physically disabled children to at-risk students, drug abusers and prison inmates.

Living Stage managing director Catherine Irwin says the company was the "first in the country to pioneer the philosophy that everyone is an artist." According to Irwin, the one-night benefit is expected to raise $25,000 to $30,000.

Playwright-lyricist Priscilla Houghton, a trustee of Arena Stage who is married to Rep. Amo Houghton (R-N.Y.), asked Grandy to do "Love Letters."

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He has been carrying the play with him as he commutes most weekends to Sioux City, Iowa, where he and Mann live with their 4-year-old daughter, Monica. "I have it in my briefcase, but I always seem to have something from the Ways and Means Committee to read first," he says.

Luckily, the play's instructions encourage spontaneity rather than too much advance preparation. Grandy and Mann rehearsed here for two days before the performance. When their busy schedule permitted at home, Grandy gave his wife a few pointers, including help with her French.

"He's such a perfectionist. I'm sure he'll bump my elbow if I make a mistake," Mann says. Grandy and Mann are scheduled to give several more performances of the play in Iowa to benefit other groups.

"I'm not nervous. I'm looking forward to it. This is acting as I know it," says Grandy, whose quick wit and ability to get along with both sides of the congressional aisles have earned him one media assessment as "The Democrat's favorite Republican."

Has his training as an actor been an asset to a life in politics?

"It's been an enormous benefit," Grandy says, adding that theatrics used knowledgeably can add to a politician's success.

Since Rep. Ben Jones (D-Ga.) lost his bid for reelection last year, Grandy is the only member of Congress who can officially claim to be an actor.

Or as Grandy says with a grin, "I'm the only professional --that's the big difference."

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