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East Lynne Theatre Company Celebrates 35 Years

In 1980, Warren Kliewer founded East Lynne Theater Company after extensive research and the discovery that there were no professional theater companies in this country dedicated to the performance, study and preservation of America's 200-year-old theatrical heritage. He named his Equity professional company after a popular late-nineteenth century American play. Based, ironically, on an English novel, "East Lynne" was the "Downton Abbey" of its day.

Kliewer wrote, "In almost any other civilized country in the world, audiences can see performances drawn from the 16th century -- even farther back in some countries. But no other company in the United States is attempting to revive plays of our own past."

A Mennonite, born in Mountain Lake, Minnesota in 1931, Kliewer already had a career in teaching, acting and directing, with several published plays, short stories, and poems to his credit, prior to ELTC.

For ten years, he taught at Bethany College in Kansas, Wichita State University, and Earlham College in Indiana. From 1970-1973, he served as production director for the National Humanities Series, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, in Princeton, NJ. His extensive acting work included the only New York production of Peter Weiss's "The Investigation," "Tobacco Road" (Fulton Opera House), and "The Waltz of the Toreadors" (New Jersey Shakespeare Festival).

ELTC first performed in Secaucus before moving to The William Carlos Williams Center in Rutherford, NJ.

From the beginning, touring productions were part of ELTC's programming, with shows going to other theaters, museums, and libraries as far west as Colorado, down to Florida, and up to Maine. Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities (MAC) contacted Kliewer about booking shows for special events, and in 1987, the musical "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" and "Yellow Wallpaper" based on the novel by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first appeared in Cape May. The following year, "Lou: The Remarkable Miss Alcott," with ELTC's current artistic director, Gayle Stahlhuth, was brought down by MAC, performing during Victorian Weekend in the re-arranged dining room of The Chalfonte Hotel.

At the suggestion of MAC's executive director Michael Zuckerman, Kliewer brought ELTC to Cape May in 1989 for its first full season that included "Who's on First - Burlesque from A to Fay," written by and starring Jodi and Joey Fay. The performance venue was The Henry Sawyer Room at The Chalfonte Hotel, where the company continued to perform through 1990.

In need of a bigger venue, ELTC converted the large lobby at The Cape May Institute into a 100-seat proscenium theater. Plans were in the works to convert the Institute's library into a larger performance space, but after the 1994 season, the venue was forced to close when the Christian Admiral Hotel, once located on Beach Avenue near the Institute, was shut down and later destroyed. The two properties were tied together.

ELTC then produced in the parish hall at the Methodist Church, and the gym in the Franklin Street School. All the while, productions still continued at The Williams Carlos Williams Center through 1997.

Since 1999, thanks to the hospitality of The First Presbyterian Church of Cape May, ELTC has been able to continue to perform in this seaside resort. The company has pursued several possibilities for a home of its own, including the old Methodist Church on Lafayette Street which now houses three condominiums.

The plays of O'Neill, Crothers, Kaufman, and other worthy American writers of over eighty years ago continue to grace ELTC's stage, as well as thought-provoking world and New Jersey premieres based on American history and literature - all relevant to today. As always, a good script is a good script and can stand the test of time. Evidence of this, is ELTC's current production of "Strictly Dishonorable" written by Oscar-winner Preston Sturges, playing through October 17.

On Monday, November 9, ELTC will celebrate its 35 years at a gala at Aleathea's Restaurant at the Inn of Cape May. For information about ELTC's season, gala, educational outreach and touring productions, call 609-884-5898 or go to the website

Photo from East Lynne Theater Company's "Strictly Dishonorable" with James Rana, Lino Del Core, Jennifer Bissell, Stephen Humes, and Eric Stephenson. Photo credit: Gayle Stahlhuth

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