Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Uniquely American Holiday Production

Oddfellows Playhouse Youth Theater and Connecticut Heritage Productions are joining creative forces this holiday season with a co-production of Paula Vogel's A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration.  The play will be performed at Oddfellows Playhouse from December 6-15.  

“One of Paula Vogel’s original sources of inspiration for writing this play was to create a truly unique American Christmas production.  So many of our standard holiday cultural pieces are imported from other countries – A Christmas Carol, the Nutcracker, and so forth,” said Peter Loffredo, artistic director of Connecticut Heritage Productions.

The play, directed by Loffedo, will feature a multi-generational cast of actors from the community, including members of Oddfellows’ Teen Repertory Company.  The Connecticut Humanities Council is generously helping to fund this production because of its unique combination of historical significance, audience appeal, and educational storytelling.  

The play is set is Washington, D.C., on Christmas Eve 1864, during the Civil War.  President Lincoln has just been reelected and General Sherman is marching troops into battle.  Interweaving historical figures with fictional characters, A Civil War Christmas not only entertains but inspires the audience by portraying the real-life struggles that occurred and the human spirit that endured during one of the most difficult times in our history. Moving swiftly from scene to scene, it chronicles many aspects of the period, from something of the private life of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln to the moving story of an African-American soldier whose wife has been cruelly kidnapped.  Christmas carols and folk songs are sung throughout by the ensemble, with additional period music performed by a group of instrumentalists. 

A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration, was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel, with music by Daryl Waters. Vogel is the former chair of the playwrighting department of Yale University and a writer-in-residence. The show premiered at Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, CT, in 2008, after which it was transferred to Boston's Huntington Theatre Company in 2009.  it is scheduled to have its off-Broadway debut in New York City this month.

Oddfellows and CHP have joined forces on various projects in the past, including Higher Ground, an original play dramatizing the long struggle of African-Americans for freedom and equality, and the Connecticut Valley Student Playwriting Competition.  They approached this production with the goal of bringing together various perspectives and members of the community to explore the theme of life in wartime during the Christmas holiday.

“Our country has just concluded a very fiercely contended national election.  The differences were sharp and deep.  Spending time delving deeply into the American Civil War and the issues has provided the cast with not only a deeper understand of our nation’s history, but also another lens through which to view our current political climate. We are excited to bring this play to our community to further this discussion,” said Oddfellows’ Executive Director Matt Pugliese.

Director Peter Loffredo has incorporated historian/novelist Richard Slotkin and ethnomusicologist Ellen Lueck into the production process to help enlighten the cast about the play’s historical significance and provide community conversations on performance evenings with the audience. Slotkin will lead a talkback following the performance on Friday 12/7 about the actual history covered in the play, and Lueck will lead a conversation regarding the musical history of the folk songs and carols on Friday 12/14. 

The production runs December 6, 7, 8, 13,14, 15 at Oddfellows Playhouse.  All performances are at 7:30pm.  Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for students and seniors. Thursday December 6 and 13 is a Pay-What-You-Can Performance.  Please bring a non-perishable food item to donate to Amazing Grace Food Pantry.  Tickets are available online at or by calling860-347-6143.  The performance is made possible through special funding from the Connecticut Humanities Council, The Middletown Commission on the Arts, and Eli Cannon’s Tap Room.

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