East Lynne to Present OUR AMERICAN COUSIN, 3/22
One-hundred-and-fifty-years ago, on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, President and Mrs. Lincoln attended "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C. During the third act, John Wilkes Booth entered the President's box to fire the fatal shot.
On Sunday, March 22 at 8:00 p.m. will be a rare opportunity to experience this British farce when ELTC presents it as a staged reading, with 11 actors taking on 16 roles. The location is The First Presbyterian Church, 500 Hughes St., in Cape May, and admission is free.
Although Tom Taylor's "Our American Cousin" is charming, its many scene changes, large cast, and period costumes, make it difficult to produce today. It's about an honest but awkward American, Asa Trenchard, who goes to England to claim his inheritance. The play premiered in 1858 at Laura Keene's Theatre in NYC, with Keene portraying the daughter of Sir Edward who heads up the Trenchard family in England. It was her production of "Our American Cousin" that was at Ford's Theatre when John Wilkes Booth fired the fatal shot.
In England, Mary Frances Moss changed her name to Laura Keene after her husband was sent to prison, and became an actress so she could support herself and her two children. While touring America, she decided to stay, becoming the first woman in NYC to manage her own theater and direct. On that dreadful night at Ford's Theatre, Keene cradled Lincoln's head in her lap while doctors examined the wound before he was moved to the boarding house across the street.
Many ELTC patrons will recognize those in the cast. Playing Florence, the role portrayed by Keene, is Patti Chambers, whose ELTC productions include "Spoon River," "Voice of the City," "The New York Idea," and "Rain." She's also performed at Cape May Stage, and in Off-Broadway shows, independent films, and on television, most notably "Law and Order." In the role of Asa Trenchard, is James Rana, who was recently featured in an episode of "Chicago Fire" and is adapting "Huckleberry Finn" for an ELTC world premiere this summer. Other television work includes "Law and Order: SVU," "Third Watch," and "One Life to Live." He's performed with a variety of theaters including The Royal Shakespeare Company, Pan Asian Rep, Ensemble Studio Theatre, and numerous New Jersey theaters, including ELTC where he last appeared in the world premiere of "Zorro!" which he also adapted from Johnston McCulley's book.
Portraying Sir Edward, the head of the Trenchard family in England, is Fred Velde, who has portrayed Dr. Watson for ELTC's radio-style Sherlock Holmes mysteries since they began in 2005. Other ELTC shows: "Anna Christie," "Dulcy," "Rain," and "The Poe Mysteries" adapted by James Rana. Other credits include "The Price of Genius" on Broadway, "Sex" by Mae West Off-Broadway, and roles in films, soaps, commercials, and on Comedy Central. It was Sir Edward's uncle who had moved to America because he didn't approve of the man his daughter married, and left her penniless. His granddaughter, Mary Meredith, is played by Holly Knapp who is a graduate from University of the Arts in Philadelphia and also studied improrv at The Upright Citizens Brigade in NYC. She performed in "Moonlight and Magnolias" at Cape May Stage and was a company member at Elaine's Dinner Theater for ten years. As artistic director for this company from 2009-2013, she wrote, directed, and starred in many shows including "Zombie Beach Party" and "Gone with the Werewolves."
Visiting the Trenchard estate are Lord Dundreary and Mrs. Mountchessington and her two daughters, Georgina and Augusta. Mark Edward Lang, who plays Dundreary, was in the Off-Broadway production and tour of "Welcome Home Marian Anderson" and performed in "Terra Nova," "The Importance of Being Earnest," "Stones in His Pocket" and other plays in various regional theaters. For ELTC, he directed "Anna Christie," and has appeared in numerous productions including "The Guardsman," "You and I," "Jealousy," "Why Marry?" and "Zorro!" From April 30-May 3, he's performing in a play he wrote, "Lunt and Fontanne: The Celestials of Broadway" with wife Alison J. Murphy, in NYC. Suzanne Dawson portrays Mrs. Mountchessington. She has performed in national tours and regional theaters including Paper Mill Playhouse, Buffalo Studio Arena, and The Alliance in Atlanta. Off-Broadway, she starred in "CBS Live," "The Last Musical Comedy," "The Great American Backstage Musical," and the revival of "New Faces of '52." Her many ELTC performances include "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" adapted by James Rana, "To the Ladies!," "The Butter and Egg Man," "Berkeley Square," and "Zorro!"
Her two daughters are played by Alison J. Murphy and Gayle Stahlhuth. Alison, playing Georgina, was in New York productions of "Aurora Leigh," "Mary of Shippensburg," and "The Wound of Love." She has also worked with American Stage Company, Shakespeare in the Garden, and Access to Art in "As You Like It," "Cloud Nine," "Elephant Man," "Extremities," and "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Her ELTC productions include "Four by Four," "Alice on the Edge," "The Guardsman," "The Dictator," and "The Late Christopher Bean." Gayle Stahlhuth, ELTC's artistic director since 1999, plays Augusta. She has performed in national tours of "Cabaret" and "Fiddler on the Roof," and in a variety of Off-Off-Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, including at Manhattan Theatre Club where she performed one of her one-person plays, "Lou: The Remarkable Miss Alcott." For her work as a playwright and actor, she's been awarded commissions from The National Portrait Gallery, Missouri, Illinois, and New Jersey Humanities Councils, and grants from NYS Council on the Arts and the Mid-Atlantic Foundation for the Arts.
Rounding out the cast are Lee O'Connor, playing Mr. Coyle, Sir Edward's accountant, Robert LeMaire, portraying Abel Murcott, Coyle's assistant, and Thomas Raniszewski, as Lieutenant Harry Vernon, who is in love with Florence. Lee has been ELTC's technical director since 1999, and has also played Sherlock in William Gillette's play "Sherlock Holmes" and all of ELTC's radio-style productions of the Holmes adventures. He performed in ELTC's "The Dictator" (2001), "Henry Sawyer and the Civil War," "The Leach Diaries," and "Dick Spindler's Family Christmas." Lee has worked for Radio City Music Hall, Irish Rep, and Primary Stages in NYC.
Robert LeMaire has directed for the Ocean City High School Drama Guild and was in the History Channel's "Civil War Terror," and Cape May Stages' "Nutcracker." He's performed in several ELTC shows including "The Ransom of Red Chief," "Three Miraculous Soldiers," "The Dictator" (2001 and 2010), "The Late Christopher Bean," and worked sound effects and performed in most radio-style productions. Thomas Raniszewski received critical acclaim for his role as Warren in two Philadelphia productions of "The Twentieth-Century Way." ELTC productions include "It Pays to Advertise," "Within the Law," "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," "Berkeley Square," and the staged reading of "Why Marry?" at the prestigious Players Club in NYC.
""Our American Cousin" is one of many events that are part of New Jersey Theatre Alliance's (NJTA) Stages Festival, and some of the funding for this event comes from NJTA. Other ELTC Stages' events include "Holmes and Carter Mysteries" (March 15 in Mahwah; March 20-21 in Cape May), "Theater: As American as Apple Pie" (March 28), and "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" (March 31).
The Stages Festival is the state's largest annual theater festival, offering over 100 performances, workshops, and events at the states professional theaters, arts centers, schools, and other community venues. Since its inception 18 years ago, the program has served over 90,000 people. To receive a full schedule, visit www.stagesfestival.org.
Founded in 1981, NJTA is the first statewide organization for professional, not-for-profit theater companies in the United States. ELTC is a member, and ELTC's artistic director, Gayle Stahlhuth, serves on the board. For more information, visit www.njtheatrealliance.org.
NJTA's Stages Festival is made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional program sponsors are Bank of America, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, PSE&G Foundation, and The Smart Family Foundation. Additional program support has been provided by The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Prudential Foundation, F.M. Kirby Foundation, Springpoint Senior Living Foundation, and The George A. Ohl, Jr. Trust Foundation.