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Memories of Plays Gone By

The Ashfield News of Ashfield, Massachusetts

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I can't remember every single word of the six plays I've worked on with Ashfield Community Theater. Even the words I personally have uttered onstage started dropping off my memory cliff promptly after we closed the curtain and began taking down the raked seating. There will, however, be moments I'll have stored in my mind for a long, long time. There was the scene in Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh (we did this play in 2010) in which tough girl Helen McCormick (Clare Donohue-Meyer of Ashfield), invites her brother, Bartley (Jonah Godfrey of Shelburne Falls), to play a game of England vs. Ireland. She is England and he is Ireland, she explains. She then proceeds to crack five eggs over his head. We had a large piece of fabric below them on the floor and a crew of four cleaned up the egg debacle in about one 25 seconds. It's the only time I've known an audience to applaud a crew doing a set change!

When I think of Our Town by Thorton Wilder (in Ashfield in 2011), I think of Ashfield resident Amelia Cain's audition for the part of Emily Webb, a girl from the New Hampshire town who dies while giving birth to her second child. When revisiting her family as a ghost, Emily wonders at the beauty of each member and of nature and of day-to-day life. Yet she sees that people don't appreciate it, distracted as they are by daily worries. "Do human beings ever realize life while they live it?" she asks. I didn't really understand the play after reading it once, but Amelia opened my eyes to its poignancy and relevance. She also made me vow to really look at my children throughout the day and listen carefully to them.

American Clock by Arthur Miller (2012) was my favorite, a journey through the Great Depression from the point of view of a family that begins the play with a 14-room Manhattan apartment and ends sharing a tiny Brooklyn one, pulling down the shades and hiding from the rent collector. We also see the ups and downs of stockbrokers, college students, a prostitute, a therapist, a farm family, and others. The most memorable moment of that play for me was stockbroker Arthur A. Robertson (Rick Hindley, then of Ashfield) describing looking down from a skyscraper and wondering at the beauty of the lights along the river Lights that turn out to be those of evicted tenants living in shacks. It made me have a conversation with my mother about the Depression, when she'd come home from school to her Brooklyn street and found her family's furniture on the sidewalk. No, she never lived down by the river, but she told me for the first time that the Irish brother of my successful great-grandfather was riding the rails throughout the '30s. My great-grandfather was called by police to collect his brother's belongings after he was found dead on a hillside in Troy, New York. He did, but then was shocked to get a letter from his alive-and-well brother in Tipperary. Turns out the man on the hillside had stolen his brother's wallet and thus was identified as his brother. Lots of us doing the play ended up learning something about how our own families made it through the Depression.

There have been other memorable moments for me since that play. A fight scene I did in Dead Man's Cell Phone (2013) as a Czech thug (who would expect to get to fake a fight on a tilted stage as a 52-year-old?) and watching Tom Kokonowski of Northampton keep his eyes open without blinking for long, long stretches as the dead man. There was Ashfield resident Michael Epstein's hilarious portrayal of Russian ballet teacher Boris Kolenkhov in You Can't Take It with You (2014) and the scalding ridiculing of Big Mama (Jane Barish of Ashfield) by Big Daddy (Tracy Trimm of Greenfield) in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof this year. (Of course, these are just my memories: all of the actors, backstage people, and audience members have their own moments stored in their memory banks.)

In a rural theater, the unexpected happens. A chicken promenaded slowly past us during Our Town as we were taking a rehearsal break on the front steps of Town Hall. A neighbor's very friendly black cat prowled up the back stairs and across the stage during one of the shows.

We've had the normal amount of actors not appearing for a show until the last moment, props breaking, actors shivering panic-stricken backstage, unable to remember their first line. And lots of smiles as the audience laughs where we never suspected there was humor or tells us after the show how well our set and costumes or sounds and lighting worked.

So here comes the next spring play. We are sending out our cultural council grant applications, asking a favorite director to come back again, and calling together people to read a bunch of plays and pick the one you'll see on the stage next year.

We'd love for you to help in any of this; just email us at jaqwalsh@hotmail.com. Or perhaps we'll see you at the show.



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Original Publication Date: November 1, 2015



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