Behind the Stage Door of the Hampton Playhouse - Chapter 2

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Humble Beginnings ... The Early Years

[To view photos of shows, click
on (photo) next to show's title]
OH MEN, OH WOMEN, (photo)

Marie Donnet
Roweno Burock
Phil O'Brien
Albert Ackel
Gene Vorrone
John Merlin
Madge West
Ailsa Dawson
Emily Bell
Alex Reed
Jerry Escow
Carol Guertamon
Jim Arenton
Louis Beachner
Robert Ramsey
Alfred Christie
John Vari
Robin Prising

Louis Beachner
Marie Donnet
Jerry Eskow
Alfred Christie

SETS -- Leonard Carvajal
Robert Ramsey

Robert Ramsey
Lorry Jamison, Asst.

Don St Cyr
Alfred Christie
Albert Ackel
Phil O'Brien

Catherine Trempi

Sarah Christie

My introduction to the Hampton Playhouse came about in the late 1940s when I discovered a poster advertising a production of "The Glass Menagerie" in a store window in Exeter. Since this is one of my favorite plays. I decided to investigate and find out just where this playhouse was located. I discovered a charming 200-year old barn on Winnacunnet Road midway between the Town of Hampton and the beach. The lady, (Sarah Christie, mother of producer Alfred Christie), seated in the very small cramped box office sold me my ticket, and I was off on my first of many delightful adventures with this wonderful theatre. Locally I had seen nothing but small community productions, so this offering was a revelation ... real live New York actors performing in this small community. I was so impressed that I returned a second and then a third time to see the same show. Later I learned that Sarah, the ticket lady, said to Alfred on my third visit that she couldn't charge me as I had been there twice before. Whether or not this happened I can't remember, but by this time I had been hooked on this company and would haunt the place in many guises for many years to come. Their opening show had been LIGHT UP THE SKY which unfortunately I had missed, but I did get to see an exciting production of DOUBLE DOOR. This season, members of the resident company that I remember included Marie Donnet, Rowena Burack, and Phil O'Brien, all of whom returned for several more seasons in a variety of roles.

Carl and Betty Bock
Carl Bock,
Betty Bock,
June 1960

That first season the company resided in a small house a few doors down from the theatre ... owned I believe by one Betty Bock who also owned the barn/theatre. The house was unfurnished for the most part, so Alfred and John dispatched Ms.Donnet to make a list of what was needed. A typical actress, she returned to announce that 'mirrors are vital' ... a story that has entertained many through the years. Sarah was house mother for the company, doing the shopping, cooking, running the box office ... you name it, she did it. Through the years she took on many other duties and became one of the most beloved and respected people in the company ... I have often maintained she 'was' the theatre! The early years were touch and go ... good productions, small audiences.

Foster Greene,
title of show
not known.
Foster Greene remembers ...
"I played the Senator in Stalag 17 and on opening night the lines were going pretty rough and I was trying to get my entrance cue but it was not there. Suddenly Vince Gardenia blurted out -- 'Jeez I gotta go to the latrine!' He almost knocked me down as he rushed off the stage saying 'Gimme a book! Christ! Gimme a book!' I had one in my hand open at the right place -- he studied it for a few moments and rushed back on stage with the proper lines and the cast picked up as though nothing had gone wrong. I got my cue to enter and the play went on without a further hitch! Vince showed what experience can do in a pinch!"

Locals acting in the company included Mary Fogarty, Catherine Coffin, Foster Greene. Stories told, maintain that John Vari wrote author Elmer Rice about the fact that his play, SEE NAPLES AND DIE did not do great business ... and Mr. Rice returned the royalty not a usual practice. During one performance one of the actors, backstage changing costume, got so involved in talking with another actor, he missed his cue. Much adlibbing was taking place on stage, actors coming and going, until one panicked actor was left alone ... suddenly the guilty party realized his mistake, rushed stark naked to the stage, stuck his head through a window an the set and delivered his lines.

One night during "Streetcar" the theatre lost electrical power ... many candles were lit along the edge of the stage, various automobiles were driven on the lawn and the big barn doors opened ... headlights were turned on and the show progressed with 'unusual' Lighting!

DANGEROUS CORNER had one or two exciting diversions that I recall. Since I was now more or less of a 'fixture' in the audience, I was witness to some of the backstage fun (?) as it were. During one performance of this very involved mystery, one of the local actresses became so caught up in the proceedings that she missed a cue ... much ad-libbing until one of the actors moved toward the wings, pretended to adjust a table light and hissed "line" to the stage manager. The SM smiled, nodded and replied 'it's going fine'! At another performance one of the actresses (who was extremely southern) had a speech in which she had to make reference to most of the others in the room, identifying them and their relationships. She began the speech, confused relationships with the result that brothers were married to sisters, mothers were sleeping with their children ... all very confusing but highly entertaining for those in the know!

Some productions are not mentioned in the chronology due to lack of programs and/or information about when they were performed.. They include GIGI, PICNIC, THE HASTY HEART, THE MOON IS BLUE, OH MEN. OH WOMEN, MY THREE ANGELS, STALAG 17, and a second production of STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE starring Vince Gardenia as Stanley.

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