Pontine Theatre Premieres Adaptation of George Savary Wasson Stories, 4/27-5/13


April 27 through May 13, Pontine Theatre premieres its original stage adaptation of stories by George Savary Wasson at its West End Studio Theatre located in Portsmouth NH.

In 1904 George Savary Wasson was working on his beach at Kittery Point, Maine, scraping the hull of his boat, when one of his sons came running down the hill, shouting that Mr. Henry James had called. Wasson shouted back to the boy, “Tell him to come right down,” and Henry James did, and a pleasant visit followed. The elegant author was staying with Wasson’s celebrated neighbor, William Dan Howells.

This call was but one of the unexpected incidents resulting from the 1903 publication of George Savary Wasson’s Cap’n Simeon’s Store. These stories, based on a study of the people and language of Kittery Point, and set against the background of the village’s general store, aroused enthusiasm. One critic hailed Cap’n Simeon's Store, as “the only book which records faithfully and fully the quaint dialect of the old New England Coast.” Mark Twain told William Dean Howells that its eighth chapter, “Rusticators at the Cove,” was one of the funniest stories he ever read. None of Wasson’s books, neither Cap’n Simeon’s Store, nor The Green Shay (1905) and Home from Sea (1908) ever enjoyed popular success. However, scholars have described them as the most authentic Maine stories ever written.

George Savary Wasson was born in Groveland, Massachusetts in 1855. His family hailed from Penobscot Bay, where they had settled immediately after the Revolution. George Wasson’s grandfather, “Squire” David Wasson--the son of a Revolutionary soldier--was closely identified with the shipping history of Brooksville, and built vessels there which hauled lumber from Bangor to Boston. “Squire” David’s son, David Atwood Wasson, was an ordained pastor of an evangelical church at Groveland,. The Reverend David Atwood Wasson, fell in with Emerson and Thoreau, and found his spiritual level with them. He moved to Concord, and from 1865 to 1867 was minister of the Twenty-eighth Congregational Society in Boston, but poor health forced his retirement.

The young George Wasson spent most of this summers with his grandfather at Brooksville. His father decided to take him to Germany for a period of study. For three years he studied under Professor Funk at Stuttgart, and although he found German art instruction uninspiring, painting became his life work.

On returning to New England George Wasson was invited by J. Foxcroft Cole to share a studio in Boston. He became the owner of the yawl Gulnare, followed a little later by the Ionian and in these boats he explored the New England coast. He exhibited at the Boston Art Club, at the exhibitions of the Paint and Clay Club and at the Museum of Fine Arts. In 1881 he sent a painting to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts exhibition of American artists, and in 1883 he had a one-man show at J. Eastman Chase’s Gallery in Boston.

In 1887, when cruising to Castine, George Wasson put in at Kittery Point; thought it the most paintable spot he had ever seen, and determined to settle there. This he did in 1889, building a house with a studio in the top story. George Wasson settled into the local scene. Every bit of it he loved. The general store became his club, and its frequenters his friends. Just as he recorded in his sketch books the details of scows, pinkies, hay schooners and wrecks, so he salted down the speech of his neighbors in note books, and from this treasury of language evolved his stories. Into these went notes about local superstition, weather lore, and phrases of daily conversation.

Wasson’s neighbors recognized his skill in making his characters “talk Kittery Point,” for when Cap’n Simeon’s Store appeared they expressed incredulity that anyone should want to read such a book when it was nothing more than what you could hear in Frisbee’s Store.

Much as George Wasson loved Kittery Point, he spent many weeks of each summer exploring other parts of the coast. His wife hated boats, however, and so remained at home during the long summer cruises to the eastward. Their two sons, David Arnold (1887-1915) and Lewis Talcott (1889-1912), would accompany their father on his wanderings.

The congenial life at Kittery Point might have gone on indefinitely had it not been for the premature deaths of the two sons. Lewis, an Ensign in the United States Navy, died in 1912, and his older brother, David Arnold--who had inherited much of his father’s literary skill--died in 1915. Kittery Point became too full of associations for the father and mother and for David’s widow, who made her home with them, and so in 1916 the surviving Wassons moved to Bangor, thus returning to the Penobscot. George Wasson would live through the summer at Castine, while his wife remained ashore in a boarding house or hotel.

In the years following the first World War, George Wasson came to realize that the record of shipping in the Penobscot would be forever lost unless something were done to preserve it, and he began searching his memory. So the writing of Sailing Days on the Penobscot began.

Through the summer of 1931 George Wasson was hard at work on Sailing Days on the Penobscot. When the proofs arrived Wasson was too ill to look at them, and he did not live to see the finished book. As he lay dying, his doctor came to see him and remarked, “Well, Mr. Wasson, I see they’ve hauled you up in drydock.” “Yep, hauled up for good this time.” And so, on the twenty-eighth of April, 1932, George S. Wasson slipped his moorings. His friends observed that it was high water and he went out with the tide.

April 27 through May 13, Pontine Theatre premieres Cap’n Simeon’s Store & Other Stories, its original stage adaptation of George Savary Wasson’s works, at its The West End Studio Theatre, 959 Islington Street, Portsmouth NH. Tickets are $24 and may be purchased in advance online at www.pontine.org. Tickets are also available at the door, based on availability (cash and checks only). The box office opens a half-hour prior to each performance. Information: info@pontine.org / 603-436-6660. This production is underwritten by Piscataqua Savings Bank and RMC Research. Pontine’s 2011-12 Season is supported by grants from the NH State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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