Previews: QUIET! THREE LADIES LAUGHING At Stage II - Town Players Of New Canaan

For lovers of Southern plays

By: May. 16, 2023
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This coming weekend New Canaan Town Players Stage II will present Robert Hawkins's Quiet! Three Ladies Laughing!, a play that is as inimitable as the story behind it.

First, about the play. In the long, hot summer of 1943, in the small Alabama town of Sulligent, Mama Nolan lays dying in her bed. Ada Lou, her youngest daughter, summons Lottie, the older sister in Chicago, and Eva, the middle sister in Mobile, to rally at Mama's bedside. It is there, with Mama's cantankerous sister, Edna, along with Miss White, a family-retainer who hails from the Appalachian Mountains, will Mama Nolan spend her final moments on earth. Mama has only a few hours left as Lottie, Eva, and Ada Lou gather on the sleeping porch to spend the evening awaiting their brother Earle's late return from an Army Boot Camp. The play, written is a bitter-sweet, semi-biographical story rooted in sentiment, humor, and pathos that speaks to a contemporary audience and their sensibilities.

If you think this is a play that will conjure up some of the South's best known authors and playwrights, you are correct.

Now, who is Robert Hawkins, you wonder? Funny you should ask. Frank S. Petrilli, the well-known director in Southwest Fairfield County, teaches playwriting through the Stamford Public School's continuing education for adults. In the beginning of one class, he held up his copy of Lajos Egri's book, The Art of Dramatic Writing. Bob Hawkins showed up and in response, pulled out of an old leather valise his own copy of The Art of Dramatic Writing. Perilli says that book "is one of the most important books on playwriting and screenwriting in the old days....I knew right away that we would get along."

But it gets even more fascinating. Hawkins resembled Ernest Hemingway, but had a drawl similar to Tennesee Williams, and sounded like Truman Capote. A graduate of Ole Miss (the University of Mississippi), Hawkins loved William Faulkner. He served in the Navy and then worked for a Chicago newspaper. He wrote The Jackdaw's Nest about his experiences on the dark side of The Front Page. When he retired from the newspaper, he worked as a tech writer for IBM. Then, because Hawkins had "always wanted to be a natural writer," he took Petrilli's class and took a stab at writing a play. He called Petrilli at 4:00 in the morning. He sounded drunk, and he insisted that they meet at 5:30 at the Stamford Diner. He asked "Can I call you Frankie?" He went on to tell him that he'd "been kicking around a couple of stories for the past 40 plus years" and that he "wrote his first play in one night."

Petrilli inwardly groaned. It was way too early in the morning and he agreed to meet a man who sounded drunk and who wrote his first play in one night. All Petrilli could think is that the play would be absolutely dreadful. When he read it, though, he thought it was perfect. He gave a copy to John Rogers of the Town Players of New Canaan. Rogers immediately gave him the green light to do the play during a Town Players' dark weekend as long as it had a breakaway set and simple lighting. The play premiered there in January 1994 with a mixed cast of Actors Equity performers and area semi-professionals. Petrilli proudly recalls that the cast was completely off-book by the time they performed it, even though it was meant to be a concert reading. Subsequently, Petrilli did two other productions of Quiet! Three Ladies Laughing - one at the Diamond Hill UM Church in Cos Cob and one at Curtain Call. Hawkins later wrote a companion play, The End of A Line, in which Earle's once significant other takes his ashes back to Sulligent. He was spurned by Earle, but he nursed him day and night until his death. Two of Earle's surviving sisters battle over whether to scatter the ashes or bury them in the family plot. Earle was the last living male in the family -- "the end of a line."

Now Petrilli is back at Stage II with Quiet! Three Ladies Laughing featuring Betty McCready as Lottie, Kimberly Lowden as Eva, Olivia Lapine as Ada Lou, Jeffrey F. Wright II as Earle, Ann Alford as Aunt Edna, Mavis Nemser as Deirdre, and Autumn Raye Arthur as Miss White. The play is narrated by Sam Mink.

Quiet! Three Ladies Laughing runs on May 20 at 8:00 p.m. and May 21 at 2:00 p.m. at Stage II of the Powerhouse Theatre in Waveny Park, New Canaan. There is a suggested donation of $10.00 at the door. Visit


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