Hits Traditional At Hampton Playhouse

By Susan Christie

The Rockingham County Gazette

Thursday, August 15, 1963

Lights, Camera, Action! ... The spotlight is on the Hampton Playhouse, in Hampton, New Hampshire!

The Hampton Playhouse, now nearing the close of its 15th successful season of professional equity shows, is one of the finest resident Summer Theaters in New England.

The Playhouse always has been, and always will be a favorite, not only among the inhabitants of Hampton, but also among many tourists from Boston, Maine, Canada, New York, etc. At 8:40 p.m. when the lights go down and the curtain rises, theater-goers know they are in for an enjoyable evening in the way of drama, comedy or, musical comedy.

Hamptonites can recall 14 years ago when John Vari and Alfred Christie, the managers, first came to Hampton, from New York City looking for the perfect locale for a summer theater. They realized that a summer theater must have more than four cement walls and a marble floor; it must have quaintness and atmosphere, and that's why they chose a two-hundred year old barn on Winnacunnet Road for their theater.

One long year of hard but gratifying work and careful planning went into the further development of the theater and the grounds.

By June of 1948, when the Vari-Christie Hampton Playhouse was ready, people were awed by the beautiful grounds and hand-hewned structure. Good Housekeeping Magazine cited the Hampton Playhouse as the ideal non-star summer theater in America. As the years went by, a new stage and more seating space was added because of the turn-away business the theater has. It was then proven, while the playhouse was still young, that management can either make or break a theater.

Alfred Christie, co-manager of the playhouse and director of a majority of the plays, keeps the paper work of the playhouse in tact. He attended N.Y.U. where he received his B.S. and also Columbia University where he received his M.A. Mr. Christie has directed such hits as, "The World of Suzie Wong", "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof", "South Pacific", and "The Boyfriend", to mention but a few. He has always had the theater bug and many people say he got that from his very talented mother, Sarah Christie.

Sarah Christie, the proud mother of three; grandmother of four; and great grandmother of two; is an invaluable part of Hampton. She keeps house and serves as advisor, judge, teacher and actress. Many critics and theater-goers have given her acclaim for her performances in "The Hostage" and "Come Blow Your Horn", which have played at the playhouse this summer. She also gives a striking performance in "Natural Affection", which is currently at the playhouse. Mrs. Christie also is a summer-mother to her grand-daughter Susan.

John Vari, co-manager of the playhouse, is a writer, and actor. He received his B.S. at N.Y.U. and his M.A. at Columbia University. He wrote the play "Farewell, Farewell, Eugene!", which ran for some time on Broadway and in England for over a year starring Dame Margaret Rutherford. Last year, John was featured in the motion picture "The Last Mile", with Mickey Rooney. He has been seen on such television shows as "Perry Mason", "Gunsmoke", "Cain's Hundred", and "New York Confidential" and has worked on all the major networks. Hampton audiences readily recall his fine performances in such plays as "Hatful of Rain", "Sweet Bird of Youth", "Tunnel of Love", and his current excellent role as 'Bernie' in "Natural Affection".

The playhouse is most fortunate in having Steven Fredrics as Scenic Designer, Robert Jeffords as Technical Director, and Fred Hoskins as Stage Manager, to help with the productions this summer.

Steven Fredrics, a native of Canada, works, literally, "day and night" with the playhouses' apprentices building the sets for the plays. His designing, workmanship and color schemes are magnificent and always appropriate.

Robert Jeffords, from New York, and one of Mr. Christie's former students, is an important link in the chain that holds the theater together. As Technical Director, he is in charge of the building and construction of the sets and all technical items connected with the theater.

Fred Hoskins, from Dallas, Texas, has perhaps the most important job in the theater -- Stage Manager. As Stage Manager, he: acts as co-ordinator between the director, actors, and scenic designer, he is assistant director and must be prepared to take over direction of a play if the director should not be present.

He is an excellent actor; he is a prompter and must know what everyone is doing on stage; he is also the cue man, who works sound effects, etc.; and, he is the prop man, who has all the props in their proper places when the curtain goes up! Freddie not only does these things with remarkable energy and precision, but he is the moral booster to whom we are all grateful.

Working with the Scenic Designer, Technical Director and Stage Manager are apprentices. These apprentices come to the theater paying their own way for experience. If an apprentice spends two years working in an equity accredited theater, plus taking part in a certain number of plays, he is eligible to become an equity member (a member of the actors' union). Besides cleaning up the grounds and the theater each day, the apprentices build and re-build the sets. The work is hard and tedious, yet, Mr. Christie and Mr. Vari receive hundreds of applications each year for apprenticeship, from which they select approximately 15.

The playhouse boats a residence company with professional actors mostly from New York and other key theater cities.

Richard Kneeland, a favorite with Hampton audiences this season and a native of Providence, Rhode Island, has recently completed a five month tour of "Under the Yum Yum Tree" in which he was featured with Margaret O'Brien and Russell Nype. On the Broadway stage, he has played in "The Disenchanted," "Talent '60" and "All the Kings Men." Last summer, he toured opposite Sylvia Sidney (as Chance Wayne) in Tennessee Williams' "Sweet Bird of Youth." While on the west coast last fall, he was featured in The Sombrero -- Playhouse's production of "Ring Around the Moon" which starred Farley Granger, and worked in such filmed T.V. ;shows as "The Detectives," "Navy Log," "Next of Kin," "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon" and the recently completed pilot for the new series, "Doctors' At Work." His past stock experience includes most of the better companies throughout the country where he has played opposite such favorite theater names as Jack Carson, Linda Darnell, Wendell Corey, Vivian Vance and Pat O'Brien, to list but a few.

Katherine Helmond returns to Hampton for her third season. Our audiences will remember her for her performances in such productions as "The Miracle Worker," "Under The Yum Yum Tree," Pursuit of Happiness," "Who Was That Lady I Saw You With?" and many others. A graduate of the famed Neighborhood Playhouse Acting School, she has been featured in many off-Broadway shows including the highly successful "Orpheus Descending" and Agatha Christie's, "The Mousetrap." On television, she has appeared on all major networks.

Richard Kennedy is a former member of his home town's famous Alley Theater, Houston, Texas and a former member of the equally famous Margo Jones Theater (he was in residence there for sixty productions) in Dallas, Texas. Our audiences will remember him in such plays as "The Happiest Millionaire," "Teahouse of the August Moon," "Ladies' Night in a Turkish Bath," "The Miracle Worker," "Father of the Bride" and many others, including his stunning performance as "Big Daddy" in "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof." On television, he has performed in a variety of shows, such as "Armstrong Circle Theater," ". M. East," and "Insight," a new fall series.

Betty Fromen Bright, a veteran actress, will be remembered for her riotous portrayals in "Anniversary Waltz," "The Seven Year Itch," "Bachelor's Honeymoon," "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Everyone Loves Opal." She has appeared in stock companies throughout the country and on all major radio and T.V. networks.

As Mr. Christie and Mr. Vari sometimes bring in big-name New York performers, so they brought in Renee Taylor, for "Natural Affection" which is playing from August 12 thru August 17 (1963). So far, this summer, Miss Taylor has been featured and starring in "Shot In The Dark," "Come Blow Your Horn" and "Three Men On A Horse" on the summer circuit. You will readily recall her wonderful comedy performances as a regular on the Perry Como show and remember her warm and charming personality from the Jack Paar show on which she made fifty-two appearances. The managers of the Hampton Playhouse know Miss Taylor's work as a serious actress from seeing her perform in Harold Clurman's professional seminars in New York and immediately contacted her to create the role of Claire in "Natural Affection," when the playing date was set. Miss Taylor's credits include "The Errand Boy" with Jerry Lewis, a regular part on the Virginia Graham show, "Girl Talk," "Li'l Abner," "Wish You Were Here," "Hatful of Rain," "Pal Joey" with Steve Lawrence and "Dinny and the Witches."

"Natural Affection," by Pulitzer Prize Winner William Inge, is an hypnotic and devastating drama about a teen-age boy who returns from a reform school to live with his unmarried mother and her love. It is by far Mr. Inge's most daring play and one which will provide you audiences with one of the most shattering climaxes ever portrayed on any stage. Because of the nature and dialogue of the play, under no circumstances will minors be admitted.

Coming August 19 thru August 24 is the French suspenseful Sex comedy, "A Shot in the Dark", adapted by Harry .This was one of the biggest hits on Broadway of the 1961-1962 season, when its central role of a raggedy urchin of a parlor maid was played triumphantly by Julie Harris.

The plot revolves around a Parisian housemaid who has been found in an embarrassing spot . . . unconscious on the floor of her little servants room wearing nothing but a revolver clutched in one little fist and across the room from her Spanish lover, (chauffeur in this wealthy household) with the chauffeur shot dead as an old mackerel!

Did she do it? ? ? ? ? ? But she is the stuff that love and dreams are made of. Her heart is as generous and strong as her conventional morals are weak. Far from being crushed by her misfortunes, she is eager to tell all and to let the world reward her at once with the confirmation of her innocence (innocence of the shooting, that is).

Walter Winchell said, "A novel murder-mystery comedy, packed with laughter!"

Our closing show, from August 26 thru August 31, is the marvelously funny comedy hit, "Take Her, She's Mine!" by Phoebe and Henry Ephron.

This is the story of a young father who has prospered through his own ingenuity sends his bright and attractive daughter to an Eastern girl's college, determined that she emerge an enlightened citizen, as she runs the gamut of Freshman and Sophomore affectations, fads and romantic frustrations, the father is being educated by his own violet and largely numerous involvements in her problems. A wise and devoted wife and mother stands by remarking, at last, that she thought HE would never grow up!

"Take Her, She's Mine!" was not designed to kill you with laughter, as it does; all it wants to do is warm your heart.

"Natural Affection," "A Shot in the Dark" and "Take Her, She's Mine," are three plays that you don't want to miss. One day, why don't you and your family take a ride to the Hampton Playhouse for one or more of the marvelous shows, and see what goes on behind the stage door!