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Highlights: Parish Players Show Looks Back at Powerful American Women

  • Brenda Danielson, left, portrays social activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Kay Morton plays pioneering astronomer Maria Mitchell in Parish Players' production of "Out of Our Fathers' House." (Courtey photograph)

  • Kate Magill plays the author Gertrude Stern in the Parish Players' production of "Out of Our Fathers' House," which opens tonight at the Eclipse Grange Theater in Thetford Hill. (Courtesy photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, May 17, 2018

During rehearsals for the Parish Players’ new production, the actors playing six accomplished and under-sung American women shared the spotlight in sisterly harmony.

But before rehearsals, the performers couldn’t resist a bit of upstaging, given the extraordinary lives of the characters they’re playing in Out of Our Fathers’ House, which opens tonight at the Eclipse Grange on Thetford Hill.

“We’ll come in and one of us will say, ‘Well my character did this,’ ” Kay Morton, a Thetford resident and Parish Players veteran who’s portraying pioneering 19th-century astronomer Maria Mitchell, said with a laugh last week. “And then another will say, ‘Well, my character did that!’ ”

Director Toni Egger hopes that audiences will come away wondering why they hadn’t heard more — if anything at all — about Mitchell or 18th-century schoolgirl Eliza Southgate (played by Katie Cawley), or labor leader Mother Jones (Kim Meredith), or Jewish-immigrant writer Gertrude Stern (Kate Magill), or Methodist minister and medical doctor Anna Howard Shaw (Emily Kuvin) or suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Brenda Danielson). The performers will wear clothes of their characters’ eras while delivering monologues that playwright Daniel Schrier adapted from letters and diaries that author Eve Merriam wove into her 1973 book Growing Up Female in America.

“I first saw the play in the 1970s,” Egger recalled last week. “I’d gone to an all-girls school and I thought I was a liberated woman. I found the play rather charming, instead of resonant.”

While revisiting the play and the book about a year ago, Egger realized that she’d heard only of Stanton and of Shaw. Reading their and the other characters’ stories, she flashed back on her career of more than three decades in television writing and producing, during which she’d navigated parades of harassing males and miasmas of institutional misogyny.

“And then this last year happened, with Trump and Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo and everything else that keeps coming out,” Egger said. “I was looking for anything and everything I could do besides just wait for the next election.”

Morton, who lately has devoted her theater time to directing and producing for Parish Players, wasn’t even looking for an onstage role; she’d last performed in Shaker Bridge Theatre’s production of The Mystery of Love and Sex, in October 2016. But between the immediate revelations of #MeToo and the cultural and historical events in the play, she couldn’t resist the urge to audition.

“This is a reminder of the amount of sexism and lack of rights that women endured from Colonial times to well into the 20th century,” Morton said. “There was a perception that women produce nothing of importance outside of the sphere of the home.”

Mitchell, born on Massachusetts’ Nantucket Island in 1818, shattered such perceptions by becoming an astronomer, one of the first female professors at Vassar College and the first woman to win election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

She also developed a reputation for standing her ground.

“Even male professors coming into Vassar with no prior experience were getting a higher salary than she was, and she protested until she won,” Morton said. “That takes guts.

“The point is that it’s not over. It’s not in terms of the timeline of people and civilization. That’s a lot of what drew me to this project. In one sense I’m a very small voice in our community theater, but it feel like I’m not just sitting back, encouraging the #MeToo and #TimesUp statements to be heard.”

Toward the longer-term goal of empowering women, Parish Players will donate proceeds from tonight’s opening show to the Vermont Women’s Fund, and the nonprofit’s executive director, Meg Smith, will talk after the show about its work.

And after the May 26 show, Eve Merriam’s son, Dee Michel, will join members of the cast to talk about his mother, who also wrote poetry and plays.

Egger said that the wider educational effort of this production is benefiting from the example of the recent production of the musical 1776, which veteran director Perry Allison staged at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction earlier this spring. Between rehearsals and performances, Allison and the cast, including several women playing the roles of signers of the Declaration of Independence, visited annual town meetings and Upper Valley schools to spark conversations about the obligations of democracy.

“Perry and I have been talking about all the commonalities,” Egger said. “The theater has a unique role and ability to do that. It isn’t a digital entertainment source. It’s people to people. That really does make a difference.”

The Parish Players stage Out of Our Fathers’ Houses at the Eclipse Grange Theatre on Thetford Hill over the next two weekends, starting tonight at 7:30 and ending on May 27 at 3 p.m.. For tickets ($10 to $15) and more information, visit parishplayers.org or call 802-785-4344.

Best Bets

Oregon-based writer, storyteller and composer Eliott Cherry stages his one-act play A Finished Heart at two Upper Valley locations this week: tonight at 7 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Upper Valley in Norwich and Saturday night at 7 at the Chandler Music Hall in Randolph. Admission to the show, which Cherry based on his conversations with his dying husband during Chris Cherry’s final weeks, is by donation to the Patient Choices Vermont program, a nonprofit that helps patients and their families through end-of-life challenges, through either visiting PatientChoices.org or calling 802-391-9911 or paying at the door.

Great Big Sea co-founder Sean McCann performs a solo show of Atlantic Canada-flavored Celtic music in the Hayloft at Artistree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret tonight at 7:30. To reserve tickets ($20) and learn more, visit artistreevt.org or call 802-457-3500.

The Old Church Theater company hosts an open house in its temporary home at 176 Waits River Road in Bradford on Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The gathering includes a tour of the space, which will seat about 90 spectators during renovations of the company’s 225-year-old home on Main Street, a raffle and previews on the coming season of plays. The season begins on June 1 with the parody Pride@Prejudice. While admission is free, donations are welcome. After the open house, the company will hold auditions for its August productions of Squish and The Holding. To learn more, visit oldchurchtheater.org.

On the theme of “When I Grow Up,” performers from Northern Stage’s Youth Ensemble Studio, Boot Camp and Experiential Learning Term programs showcase their skills at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction on Saturday night at 6:30. For tickets ($59) and more information, visit northernstage.org or call 802-296-7000.

Alto Linda Radtke sings I Feel the Spirit!, Vermont composer Gwyneth Walker’s new arrangement of four traditional spirituals, during Sunday’s 10 a.m. worship service at First Congregational Church of Lebanon. Accompanying Radtke will be cellist Margaret Gilmore, violist Erin McNeely and violinist Judy Wild. The church welcomes all music lovers at no admission.

The Wheezer, Squeezer and Plink trio of bagpiper Timothy Cummings, accordionist Jeremiah McLane and strings player Alex Kehler performs traditional French and Scottish music at the Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon on Sunday night at 7. Admission is $20 to $25. To reserve tickets and learn more, visit sevenstarsarts.org or call 802-763-2334.

The early-music ensemble Clamare sings the complete cycle of Dieterich Buxtehude’s cantatas Membra Jesu Nostri at Dartmouth College’s Faulkner Recital Hall in Hanover, on Tuesday night at 7:30, with accompanists Margaret Gilmore on cello and Diane Belcher on harpsichord. Admission is free.

Looking Ahead

New York-based actress Francesca Harper will portray blues diva Billie Holiday in a production of Lanie Robertson’s Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, under the direction of Jarvis Antonio Green later this month. Performances are slated for next Thursday through Sunday at the Engine Room in White River Junction and the following weekend in ArtisTree Community Art Center’s Grange Theater. For tickets ($32-35) and more information, visit jagproductionsvt.com.

Theater/Performance Art

Shaker Bridge Theatre wraps its production of Quechee playwright Mike Backman’s coming-of-age drama Sunset this weekend, with performances at Enfield’s Whitney Hall at 7:30 tonight, Friday night and Saturday night and the finale on Sunday afternoon at 2:30. To reserve tickets ($16 to $35, plus $2 for each online order), visit shakerbridgetheatre.org or call 603-448-3750.

Performance artist Gallagher shatters watermelons and heaven knows what else at the Chandler Music Hall in Randolph tonight at 7:30, during his “The Last Smash Tour” with comedian Artie Fletcher. For tickets ($30 to $45) and more information, visit chandler-arts.org or call 802-728-6464.

Comedian Juston McKenney performs his stand-up routine at Alumni Hall in Haverhill on Saturday night at 7:30. For tickets ($25) and more information, visit courtstreetarts.org or call 603-989-5500.

Music

The Dragonfly trio of singer Judy Blake, singer-guitarist Ken Hamshaw and bassist Danny Solomon play across the spectrum of Americana during the Sunapee Community CoffeeHouse on Friday night at 7, at the Methodist church in Sunapee Harbor. Admission is by donation.

For the 10th annual “Next Generation” concert at Chandler Music Hall in Randolph, 16 young musicians from around the Upper Valley and central Vermont play works of composers from the Baroque era into the 21st century, on Friday night at 7:30. To reserve seats ($10 to $16) and learn more, visit chandler-arts.org or call 802-728-6464

The Handel Society of Dartmouth College tackles Bach’s Passion According to St. John on Saturday night at 8 in Spaulding Auditorium. Robert Duff conducts the season-ending performance. To reserve tickets ($10 to $20) and learn more, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

Maine-based organist Ray Cornils performs sacred music at the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College in Hanover on Sunday afternoon at 4. Admission is free.

Bar and Club Circuit

Saxophonist Mike Parker and singer Alison “AliT” Turner play the Taverne on the Square in Claremont tonight at 6.

The Woodstock-based Off the Rails trio pulls into Windsor Station tonight at 7 to play a set of roots music. Maiden Voyage plays hip-hop on Friday night at 10, the Sullivan, Davis & Hanscom Band rocks out on Saturday night at 9:30 and singer-songwriter Erik Boedtker appears on Tuesday night at 6.

The weekend line-up at Hanover’s Salt hill Pub features About Gladys frontman Rich Thomas on Friday night at 9 and The Party Crashers on Saturday night at 9.

FLEW-Z frontman Alec Currier plays a set of acoustic rock at Salt hill Pub in downtown Lebanon on Friday night at 9.

Guitarist Ted Mortimer kicks off the weekend at Salt hill Pub in West Lebanon on Friday night at 9. And on Saturday night at 9, Plush Foot performs a set of funky rock.

Singer-songwriter Ryan Alvanos plays Newport’s Salt hill Pub on Friday night at 9, and FLEW-Z plays Saturday at 9 p.m.

Fu’Chunk, the rock band formerly known as Toast, plays Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners on Friday night at 9.

Pianist Sonny Saul performs jazz at the On the River Inn in Woodstock on Saturday and Wednesday nights from 6:30 to 9.

Singer-songwriter Rhys Chalmers performs on the patio of SILO Distillery in Windsor on Tuesday from 3 to 8 p.m.

Saxophonist Michael Parker leads Soulfix into Crossroads Bar and Grille in South Royalton on Saturday night at 9, and plays jazz with guitarist Norm Wolfe at the Quechee Inn at Marshland Farm on Wednesday night at 6.

The Americana ensemble of keyboardist Doc Winslow, bassist Tom Lord, guitarist Kit Creeger and drummer Bryant Harris serenades the weekly brunch at Poor Thom’s Tavern in Meriden on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Open Mics

Ramunto’s Brick & Brew Pizza in Bridgewater hosts an open mic starting at 7:30 on Thursday nights. Participants get a free large cheese pizza.

String players of all ages and abilities are welcome at the weekly acoustic jam session at South Royalton’s BALE Commons on Friday night from 6:30 to 10.

Joe Stallsmith leads his weekly hootenanny of Americana, folk and bluegrass on Monday night at 6 at Salt hill Pub in Hanover.

Woodstock’s Jim Yeager hosts open mics on the following nights over the coming week: at Bentley’s Restaurant in Woodstock on Monday at 7:30; at the Public House in Quechee on Tuesday at 6; on Wednesday from 8 to midnight at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners; and next Thursday night at the ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret.

Fiddler Jakob Breitbach leads a weekly acoustic jam session of bluegrass, Americana and old-timey music on Tuesday nights at 7 at The Filling Station Bar and Grill in White River Junction.

Tom Masterson hosts the weekly open mic at Bradford’s Colatina Exit on Tuesday nights at 8.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.