Pontine Theatre Presents 'ISLES OF SHOALS,' Now thru 5/11

Pontine Theatre Presents 'ISLES OF SHOALS,' Now thru 5/11

Today, May 1 through 11, Pontine Theatre presents Isles of Shoals: Eternal Sound of the Sea. Performances are Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 4pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $24 and may be purchased online at www.pontine.org.

Tickets may also be purchased at the door and half-hour prior to performances (cash & check only) based on availability. Pontine's West End Studio Theatre is located at 959 Islington Street, Portsmouth NH. The building is not visible from the street, look for the big 959 on the signpost at the head of the drive.

ISLES OF SHOALS: Eternal Sound of the Sea is created and performed by Pontine Theatre's's Co-artistic Directors, M. Marguerite Mathews and Greg Gathers. They draw their script from the writings of two prominent New England authors, Celia Thaxter and Nathaniel Hawthore, who, in various works, explore the rich history and folklore of the islands, from the early settlement through the Victorian resort era. Through Tabletop Toy Theatre, projected video and shadow play, Pontine's co-directors, Mr. Gathers and Ms. Mathews, bring the legend and lore of the Shoals to life onstage.

Celia Thaxter was born in Portsmouth in 1835 and spent much of her childhood on White Island at the Isles of Shoals where her father was the lighthouse keeper and Appledore where her family ran a resort hotel. At age 16 she married her former tutor, Levi Thaxter, who introduced Celia to the literary world of Boston. Her first published poem, Land-locked, appeared in The Atlantic in 1860. Celia went on to became one of America's favorite authors. Aldrich, Emerson, Hawthrone, Jewett, Longfellow and Whittier were among her circle of friends and they, along with actors, artists and musicians came to visit her and vacation at the hotel her family operated at the Shoals.

In 1852, when Celia was only 17 years old, Nathaniel Hawthorne visited the Isles of Shoals. During his two-week visit, he stayed at the Appledore House, where he was hosted by Thomas Laighton and other members of the Laighton family, including Thomas's daughter, Celia. At the time of Hawthorne's visit Celia was a young newly wed who had just set up housekeeping in a little cottage. In Hawthorne's journal, he describes his visits to Celia and Levi's cottage, located near her family's hotel. He found their company charming,

"It is certainly a romantic incident to find such a young man on this lonely island. His marriage with the pretty Miranda is a true romance."

Hawthorne also describes his visits to other islands that make up the Shoals, including Star Island's village of Gosport which was inhabited by a "rough and tumble" assortment of fisher folk.

"I saw one old witch-looking woman creeping about with a cane, and stooping over, seemingly to gather herbs. On mentioning her to Mr. Thaxter, he said that it was probably the bearded woman. I did not observe her beard, though very likely she may have had one. "

In her memoir, Among the Isles of Shoals, Celia Thaxter also revels in describing some of the inhabitants of Gosport.

"One old Shoaler had the largest, most misshapen cheek-bones ever constructed, teeth that should not be mentioned, and small, watery eyes. He had an ancient violin, which he used to hug under his wizened chin, and from which he drew such dismal tones as never before were heard on sea or land. He had no more idea of playing than one of the codfish he daily split and salted, yet he christened with pride all the shrieks and wails he drew out of the wretched instrument with various high-sounding titles. He was wont to say 'Wall, now I'll give yer Prince Esterhay's March,' and forthwith began again precisely the same intolerable squeak."

Hawthorne's observations are extracted from his published journal An American Notebook. In it he describes the Shoals through the eyes of a typical summer visitor, marveling at the rugged beauty of the scenery, extolling the amenities of the hotel, and wondering at the rustic lifestyle of the native fishermen. He is toured and feted by the Laightons and Thaxters, charmed by his hosts, and alarmed by the manners of both the Shoalers and the less educated fellow tourists.

"They consist of country traders, a country doctor, and such sorts of people, rude shrewd, and simple, and well-behaved enough; wondering at sharks and equally at lobsters; sitting down to table with their coats off; helping themselves out of the dish with their own forks; taking pudding on the plates off which they have eaten meat. People at just this stage of manners are more disagreeable than at any other stage."

Pontine Theatre's production integrates excerpts from An American Notebook with stories, reminiscences, and local lore written by the islands' most famous resident, Celia Thaxter. From her autobiographical, Among the Isles of Shoals come a history of the early days on the islands, the wreck of the Sagunto on Haleys' Island (now Smuttynose), and the tale of the ghostly maiden said to guard Blackbeard's pirate treasure.

"She turned instantly, and fixing on me the largest and most melancholy blue eyes I ever beheld, said quitetly, 'He will come again.' Then she disappeared round a jutting rock and left me marveling."

Also featured in the play is the tale of the famous murders on Smuttynose island as told in Thaxter's article "A Memorable Murder," which was published in The Atlantic. Pontine brings this true story to life with a tabletop theatre populated with beautifully crafted figures who act out the tragic events which occured that fateful night on Smuttynose. Celia's article begins:

"At the Isles of Shoals, on the 5th of March 1873, occurred one of the most monstrous tragedies ever enacted on this planet. The sickening details of the double murder are well known; the newspapers teemed with them for months: but the pathos of the story is not realized; the world does not know how gentle a life these poor people led, how innocently happy were their quiet days. Let me tell the story of their sorrow as simply as may be."

Isles of Shoals:Eternal Sound of the Sea will be enjoyed by those who have already cultivated a love of the Shoals as well as those who have yet to be introduced to their unique magic.

There is a strange charm about the Isles of Shoals, hardly to be explained, but universally acknowledged. People forget the hurry and worry and fret of life after being there awhile, and, to an imaginative mind, all things become dreamy. The eternal sound of the sea on every side wears away the edge of human thought and perception; sharp outlines become blurred and softened like a sketch in charcoal. Celia Thaxter, Among the Isles of Shoals

Pontine Theatre, a two-person ensemble, is well known for a large body of innovative original productions that celebrate the history and culture of New England. These include a staging of Thomas Bailey Aldrich's 1869 novel, The Story of a Bad Boy; an original adaptation of Brewster's Rambles About Portsmouth; Wallace Nutting's Old America; a two person staging of Thornton Wilder's classic portrait of rural New Hampshire, Our Town; an original adaptation of Sarah Orne Jewett's 1896 novel, The Country of the Pointed Firs; Cornish Castles, based on the life and work of New Hampshire painter, Maxfield Parrish; Journey To Heaven, based on the lives and beliefs of the Shakers; and Dearly Earned, about 19th century New England textile mill workers. Pontine Theatre has performed in hundreds of sites throughout the region including Bates College, Dartmouth College, M.I.T., Currier Museum, DeCordova Museum, Farnsworth Museum, Fruitlands Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Boston Museum of Fine Art, Canterbury Shaker Village, and the Enfield Shaker Village.

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