Between The Lines ...

By Mary Fogarty

The Hampton Union and Rockingham County Gazette

Thursday, June 29, 1950

Many of our readers may think because we live in Hampton, we're experts on the chicks, pigs, cows and everything else that goes in and out of a barn. Well, even you city-folk will have to admit that thousands of families — in fact, generations of families have lived by and prospered on the business symbolized by the barn.

Actually though, the only barn we can tell you about and one of the most interesting ones in this seacoast area, houses none of the conventional occupants. It's going to attract hundreds of vacationists this summer. You can't miss it if you follow the crowd — and they won't he going to see the livestock.

This barn is on Winnacunnet road — the one with the big red doors, the same that's been publicized all over the country and In Canada as being the stamping I grounds for the Hampton Players.

The big red doors opened just before press time so we had a chance to meet some of the company and get a small idea of what's going to happen from July 4 opening through the 10-week season. Those of us who were around last season, which was Hampton's first on the straw hat circuit, were delighted wIth the theater with its original timbers and the twin balconies. This year a new box office has been added, plus a new balcony and the stage has been widened and deepened.

So much for the preliminarIes.

The really important thing about the Playhouse is the company. Headed by John Vari and Alfred Christie, the resident group is composed entirely of Equity players. With the exception of one member, the management and company are completely new this year. Actually, the one member who has returned is responsible for bringing the new group to Hampton. She's Muriel Brown -- our favorite of last year's players, a girl who makes you feel that every part she does was written especially for her.

One of the students at the school connected with the Playhouse this year is Helen Jane LeRoux, a local high school senior who made her debut in, and stole the show as Miriam in "Dear Ruth" last summer.

It's through John Vari that we're able to tell you a little bit about some of the company. But during that short talk we learned more than what they've done and what they're going to do. We found out what they are. Mr. Vari's sincerity and eagerness to bring the best to Hampton is reflected throughout the troupe.

To the Vari-Christie team this isn't just a detour on the road to success. It isn't just a stop-off where they can fool around for a season and maybe "be discovered." They and their company are experienced directors, actors, actresses, technicians and what have you, who have already been successful and who consider summer stock a very necessary phase of the theater. Because, by operating the best type of summer theater, they are reaching three classes of people -- those who are used to fine entertainment, those, who, during the winter months, ar unable to take advantage of it, and the apprentices who are fortunate in having seasoned actors as teachers in the school connected with the theater.

John Vari's background, alone, would fill an edition but to put it briefly, at 24, he's a graduate of King's Point Merchant Marine Academy, has a B.S. from New York University and as a "president's scholar" received his Master's at Columbia. He is a speech and speech appreciation teacher at Long Island university while he is studying for his doctorate in that field. He has much legitimate theater and three movies to his credit, plus experience as a dancer and a singer. He'll be seen as the playwright in the opening show, Moss Hart's wonderful "Light Up The Sky."

Although it has nothing to do with his success, because only talent and hard work can do it, John Vari says he comes from a "lucky neighborhood." His Long Island home is one block this way and two blocks that way and across the street from where many theater "names" used to hang their hats -- people like Ethel Merman, Nancy Kelly, John Battles, Robert Alda, and Lizabeth Scott.

The other half of this versatile team, Alfred Christie hails from Belleville, N.J. His reputation is tops in that state and across the river for his work with community theaters. He went through N.Y.U. and Columbia with John and is studying with him now for his Ph. D. A teacher, also, he heads his department.

As a footnote on Alfred Christie, we wonder if you remember the sensation he caused a few years ago when all the New York papers called him "The Miracle Boy of the War."

The war ended for Al Christie when he came home paralyzed. If he had listened to the doctors, it would have been the end of everything for him because they told him he'd never walk again. But the show-must-go-on spirit hadn't left this pre-war dancer and one night Al and his crutches were at the Stage Door Canteen and on the spur of the moment he asked a little actress to dance. She, of course, though he was kidding, but when she saw him drop those crutches, she stayed with him while he struggled and won his battle with those "useless" legs.

No one knew much about the incident until Walter Winchell started advertising for the owner of the discarded crutches to come and claim them. No one came forward until someone who knew the story identified the re-born Christie and then things started happening. The papers caught the story and spread it around and "The Miracle Boy" went on a tour and wound up on "We The People."

There's a sample of the determination these young players have brought with them.

Last seen on Broadway as the mother in Tennessee Williams' "Summer and Smoke," Marga Ann Deighton has been signed as the leading character woman. Along with her many stage and movie roles, Miss Deighton has been much in demand in the television field. In fact, she a video pioneer, having worked with it over 20 years ago.

Straight from "The Master Builder" in NYC, Marie Donnet has come to the Playhouse to be the company's leading lady. One of her best-known performances was in "Angel Street" with Eve LeGaillienne and Joseph Schildkraut. No novice in summer stock, she has had two of her own summer theaters.

A carbon copy of Alan Ladd is with us in the person of David Hardinson, the leading man. Having been Ladd's stand-in in Hollywood, he broke into movies on his own ability and has been able to chalk up a fine score of excellent performances.

A native of Troy, N.Y., 23-year old Philip O'Brien, Jr., will take over the juvenile roles this season. A member of the Washington Square Players in New York, he is well known to the television audience and is popular among Shakespeare devotees.

The director of "Light Up The Sky", James Arenton, last seen in "The Master Builder" in New York, has joined the company as a character man. He has a solid background resulting from working with the Equity Library Theater and the Repertory Theater of New York City.

Another well-known name from the Equity Library Theater is Edward Greer who recently directed T. S. Eliot's "Murder in the Cathedral." He'll handle the direction of about five shows here.

It's be interesting to see what Bill Noffke, the company designer, can do with the two pillars on the stage. A graduate of the Goodman School of Design, he was recently with On Stage Productions.

Watch for some big name visitors among them Tennessee Williams, who's going to drop in on "Glass Menagerie," and his gifted director Margo Jones. Besides being famous for directing Williams' plays, Miss Jones is well-known for her work with area theaters. She's expected to be here for "The Rivals," which, by the way, will be done in costumes designed by the company.

The schedule for the season, following "Light Up The Sky," includes "Peg O' My Heart," "Tonight At 8:30," "The Rivals," "Double Door," "The Late Christopher Beane," "The Importance of Being Ernest," "The Glass Menagerie," "Rain," and "On Approval."

Don't forget, curtain time is July 4 [1950].