BROOKE HILLS PLAYHOUSE: A COLLECTIVE MEMOIR, PART 5C

Brooke Hills Playhouse, Print by Russ Shaffer, 1982

THE FIRST CAST OF CHARACTERS or THE BARNSTORMERS

As I wrote at the beginning of Part 5A & 5B—Amazing people came to help make the Playhouse a reality in that summer of 1972. They sweated and shivered. They worked long hours and never complained loudly. They did smelly, dirty jobs, and created a Playhouse, a theatre, where people in the audience were transported from a barn in West Virginia to an apartment in New York City, a street in London, a farm in Oklahoma, a village in Russia, or a comic strip by Charles Schulz. It was a lot of hard, dirty work, but when the houselights went down and the stage lights came up, these wonderful people made magic happen.

I’ll never remember them all, but here are some more of those good friends and fine people who came to work with the four of us–John and Judy, Bill and me, that first summer. Some were promised the whopping salary of $5 a week plus room and board. Money did not come rolling in, so it was mostly undelivered. Most came not for the promise of remuneration but for the joy of indulging their love of live theatre.

Marlene (Marcy) Marston Bringarden, Norma Stone, and I all did plays together and graduated from West Liberty in 1969. 

Marcy lying across the back of the couch in the 1973 production of Last of the Red Hot Lovers. From left: Jo Lynne Nugent, John Hennen, Judy Porter Hennen.

Marcy majored in both Art and Speech and Drama, so she could teach in multiple fields. Marcy had dated Bill DeFoor at West Liberty, and they married in November 1969.  They lived in Marcy’s hometown of Follansbee and had a son, Billy, in 1971.

(N.B., Billy was born with muscular dystrophy and never walked, but he thrived in spite of the dystrophy. He had a great sense of humor and a great singing voice, and he even acted in his high school production of Guys and Dolls. He completed college and became a computer programmer. He could drive an adapted van to and from his job, but sadly Billy died from complications of dystrophy in 2002.)

Marcy started volunteering at the Playhouse as soon as she heard about the undertaking, and she played the ingenue in Arsenic and Old Lace that first season. Occasionally, she would bring Billy to the barn with her for an hour or so.

As we were coming down to crunch time, i.e. getting the program ads and cover to the printer, Marlene sketched a great picture of the Playhouse for us to use on the program cover. Years later, when I thought about it, I wished she had signed that picture and that I had kept the original.  She deserved so much credit for it. We used it for decades!

Decoupage plaque. 1972 program cover, barn rendition by Marlene, with my program blurb.

After playing the female leads in Butterflies Are Free in 1973 and A Girl Could Get Lucky in 1974, Bill and Marlene moved to Michigan when Bill took a sales position with Great Lakes Steel. In Michigan, Marlene acted in many dinner-theatre productions over the years, “but,” she said, “working in that barn taught me a lot.”

Marlene has some great Playhouse memories from her time on our stage in those early seasons. Marlene played the ingenue in our second play of that first season, Arsenic and Old Lace. Rich Ferguson played her boyfriend from next door.  When the set was up, after that horrible first strike night, the cast had their technical rehearsal, and everything was in play.

Marlene recalled, “Rich and I came offstage after the scene where we kiss, and he said to me, ‘That’s the first time I’ve ever kissed anyone.’ Of course, he meant, ‘on the lips.’ It was pretty obvious, but I just said something like, ‘You did okay.’ He got better at it as the show went on, but I know he was never really comfortable with it.”

(n.b. I’ll relate some other stories from Marlene’s memory in the years when they occurred.)

Twenty-two years later in 1996, Bill died of melanoma.  Several months afterward, Marlene joined a grief support group and met Steve Bringardner. Steve had lost his wife to cancer, also, and they married in 1998. Marlene and Steve live in Dexter, Michigan and spend lots of time with Steve’s four children (and now Marcy’s, too) and their grandchildren.

Larry Crofford wasn’t in college and was living at home in Wellsburg in 1972. His father was a little upset that Larry wasn’t working at WestVaCo again that summer. (N.B., WestVaCo was originally the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company. The Wellsburg plant is a bag plant on Commerce Street, just north of 22nd Street, that has been bought and sold by a number of companies over the years. Whatever its present name, it’s still producing bags! Richard Coote, my husband of 26 years, was named the General Manager of this WestVaCo bag plant, and he moved to Wellsburg from Boston in 1976. Richard and his wife at the time were frequent Playhouse attenders and often joined in the fun at the cast parties.  Although he moved on to New Orleans in 1979, we kept in touch, and in 1995, Richard and I married. So really, WestVaCo is responsible for my leaving the Playhouse after 24 seasons and for my present wonderful life!)

Larry Crofford, 1972

In addition to working daily on the massive barn transformation, Larry was in Arsenic and Old Lace as Dr. Einstein that first summer, and as a policeman in See How They Run in 1974.  He may have been in a show in 1973, but memories being what they are…. By that time, he was writing for the Wheeling News-Register.

Eventually Larry returned to college while working full-time at the Wheeling Intelligencer, and he graduated in 1977 with a degree in English Literature.

“From there, I moved to Charleston for three years where I worked in state government, for a mental health center, and, finally, as a speech writer for Gov. Jay and Sharon Rockefeller. In the meantime, I had been thinking about law school. I was 31, single, and thought I would enjoy the law. I took the LSAT and did well enough that WVU overlooked my long, strange trip through undergraduate school.”

Larry graduated with his law degree from West Virginia University in 1983, and then practiced criminal law in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle for 30 years, seven years as a defense lawyer and 23 years as a felony prosecutor.  He and his wife Ellen Riding from Wheeling have been married for 33 years, and they have four children between them and six grandchildren.  Larry is semi-retired but still keeps his license active. He’s also an avid snow skier and travels yearly to ski with a group of friends in Northern Italy.

Larry said, “I used to see Judy and John Hennen frequently when I lived in Charleston. Before going off to law school, John tried (not too hard) to talk me out of it, saying law wouldn’t be any fun. Nevertheless, years ago I came to view my experiences studying literature, working as a newspaper reporter and speechwriter, and the summer at Brooke Hills Playhouse as invaluable in prepping me for being a trial lawyer. After all, ever since 1983, I’ve been writing, directing, and acting in non-fiction plays. At least, I’ve always prepared my trials as if they were plays.

“So, what can I say about that first season at Brooke Hills Playhouse? It was the best summer of my life.”

Mariana Hubbard was another Wellsburg native who volunteered day after day that first summer. Mariana was Marti Hubbard’s younger sister. If you remember, it was Marti who had suggested that we consider “that old barn in Brooke Hills Park” as a possible site for our theatre. Mariana, who had graduated from West Virginia University, was attending Oakland University in order to complete her pre-requisites for veterinary school. 

Mariana Hubbard, 1972

Ironically, Mariana and her roommates often attended the plays that the Oakland Drama Department produced.  “At one play, the director stood on the edge of the stage behind a podium and told the actors what to change while the play was going on,” wrote Mariana, “I’d never seen that happen before. That is how I recognized the director (Tom Aston) you had hired for the Playhouse!”

Mariana was “hanging out in the big metropolis of Wellsburg” for the summer of 1972, when she heard about the Playhouse-in-the-making.  Her wonderful mother, Helen, a member of the Brooke County Park Commission, might have suggested that Mariana check out what was going on in the old barn, and she did.

Al Martin “fell in love” with Mariana, who was kind of shy and quiet and a little ornery. He liked painting with her, and I think she served as his first stage manager at Brooke Hills. Al also insisted that she be in the play he conceived and directed that first year–Fable Theatre. So, she played The Tree, a mute, in one of the sketches! She remembers that some of her friends came to see her in the show, but her role consisted of standing BEHIND a two-dimensional, painted tree cut out of Masonite, so she was never seen.  I think I remember that she even took her curtain call behind the tree, which was good for a laugh.

Mariana spent most of the summer building props and sewing or adjusting costumes with her first cousin Mary Kay Hervey DeGarmo, and she remembers that for a while there was a small travel trailer parked behind the barn. (It belonged to Bill Harper’s dad and was equipped with a propane stove.)

Apparently, I was back in the trailer one day supposedly cooking.  Mariana had a question and came back to the trailer.  When she opened the door, she saw me curled up and sleeping on the built-in sofa. She said she decided “it probably wasn’t a good idea to disturb ‘The Boss,’” so she let me sleep. God bless her! But rest assured.  I most certainly was not “The Boss” until about nine years into our grand experiment!

Mariana remembers one time when her brother Sam Hubbard was noisily installing theatre seats upstairs while Charlie Brown was rehearsing. The noise apparently bothered Tom Aston, the director, who was trying to give notes to the cast. Sam didn’t hear Tom ask for silence, but when Sam looked up, he got a hard stare and stopped immediately!

“In Charlie Brown, there was a scene about Valentine’s Day,” wrote Mariana. “Charlie Brown was holding a couple of cards, and then Snoopy walked by with a lot more cards than Charlie Brown. The director said Snoopy needed more cards, so I thought, ‘You want more cards, Director? Well, you will get more cards.’ (I was being a bit of a jerk, you know, with that attitude!)

During the next rehearsal, I had Snoopy carrying around 20 Valentines, and I sewed red hearts in a long line, so they dangled behind him as he walked by. The director looked at me and I got a ‘nod’—no words, just a ‘nod.’ That was the only time I think he even noticed me.

“I liked the actor who played Charlie Brown (n.b. Tom (T.C.) Cervone). He was nice and had a great sense of humor.  I’m not sure who came up with the joke we played on him, but in the play, he had to put a brown grocery bag over his head as he was talking. So, one time we put a lot of perfume in the inside of that bag. He did not falter on any of his lines, but I’m sure he knew who did it. He didn’t say anything to me about it though.”

Anyway, Mariana was determined to be a veterinarian, but West Virginia didn’t have a vet school, only reciprocal agreements with other state’s vet schools.  To complete all the necessary requirements for the out-of-state schools, Mariana attended Oakland University and then Ohio State, where she received a Master’s Degree in Animal Nutrition.  She was accepted at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine and received her DVM, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.

Upon graduation, Marianna worked for a while in a clinic near Baltimore, and then friend opened the Barcroft Cat Clinic in Springfield, Virginia.  Eventually, Mariana bought out her partner.  After retiring from the veterinary field, Mariana attended paralegal classes and became a Certified Paralegal. She doesn’t practice, but says, “One never knows what you may have to deal with in the future.” 

Mariana continues to live in Springfield, Virginia, just 15 miles from Washington, D.C.

Jane Miller was a Wellsburg native who was majoring in theatre at West Liberty in 1972. When she heard about the Playhouse, she knew she wanted to get involved, and boy, did she!

Janie Miller, from The Trumpet, WLSC campus newspaper, 1971

Janie built sets, acted, collected and constructed props, cleaned the always dusty barn, and changed scenery. You name it. She also helped scrub and de-gum the theatre seats which had been salvaged from the balcony of a movie house about to be demolished in East Liverpool, Ohio. Those 400-some seats had years of grime on them and chewing gum on their underside. It was disgusting work, one of the chores that we referred to as “the glitter, glory, and glamour of theatre.” Whatever had to be done, Janie was up for it.

“It was all great,” said Janie.  ”The group consisted of super-talented people who were having fun.  There were picnics during cast parties where we roasted corn in an open fire over by the Kiwanis shelter, and we drank beer. During those parties, everyone was ON! We’d be chirping lines from shows, singing, dancing…! Just so much fun!

Also among Janie’s fond memories from that first summer were the drinking and the laughing, and there was a lot of both!

Janie only worked at the barn that first summer, but after that, she could often be found in the audience as a paying customer.

Janie retired from the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System after 27 years. She was the Human Resource director and then the director of Community and Government Relations.  Janie’s husband, Arnie Horovitz, is a retired lawyer. They sold their long-time home and in 2019 moved to their condo in Oakland, Pittsburgh, on the Pitt campus.  They both love theatre, cabarets, and any live performances and are regulars at the Greer Cabaret, on Penn Ave. in Pittsburgh.

Kay Murphy Cilone, my younger sister, had always loved selling Girl Scout Cookies as much as I hated selling them. She was living in Follansbee in 1972 with her husband Joe and 2-year-old son Joey.  Kay saw how much I hated selling program ads for the Playhouse.  Eventually she took pity on me and took over the ad sales for that first summer and one or two others. It was a tremendous weight off my shoulders.

Kay Murphy Cilone with husband Joe and son Joey, 1973

Kay and Joe (who also was a Speech and Theatre major at West Liberty) have been married for over 50 years. They have two wonderful sons, two wonderful daughters-in-law, two wonderful grandchildren, and a beautiful great granddaughter and now live in Canfield, Ohio. N.B., Incidentally, Joe put his public speaking skills to use as he recently retired from pastoring a church for 40 years.

My brother, Mark Murphy (not to be confused with my dad Mark Murphy) had just completed his junior year in high school in 1972.  Dad would stop at the Playhouse on his way home from golfing at Highland Springs Golf Course, near the Pennsylvania state line and put in a couple of hours helping to transform the barn into a theatre.  Brother Mark would also come out to the barn to lend a hand.

Mark Murphy, the Younger, 1973

I asked Mark recently what he did to advance the renovation. He could remember helping, but he had no recollection of what he did exactly.  I have a feeling that he helped Dad with the concrete work and lent a hand by holding platforms, which created the walls of the downstairs backstage area, while someone screwed them in place.  Anyone who stopped by was put to work!  According to one old program, Mark also stage managed a show!  Neither one of us remembered that!

Mark, now retired, loves riding his Harley and traveling. He and his wife Anne live in Lenoir City, Tennessee, near Knoxville.

Heather Otto, my first cousin from Wellsburg, W. Va., graduated from Bethany College in 1971 and moved to Newport, Kentucky to teach English with Norma and me. Heather came home to Wellsburg for the summer and volunteered to work that first summer at the Playhouse, doing a lot of grunt work as well as writing press releases.

Heather Otto, 1972

Heather went on to receive her Master’s Degree from Xavier in Cincinnati, and for the next five years, she taught at West Liberty where she and Stanley Harrison became great pals. One year when the snow was flying and classes were canceled right before Spring Break, she got a call from Stanley who suggested they drive to Arizona!  Heather had no plans, and so they started driving, stopping in Missouri for an overnight stay with Stanley’s brother.

When they got to Arizona with its nice winter weather, Heather said she thought, “Why wouldn’t everyone want to live here?”

Before long she acted on that thought and moved to Tucson, where she started working on her Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration while working part-time for IBM.

Eventually, Heather left graduate school for a full-time job at IBM, where she met her husband, Mike Liddicoat.  Heather and Mike have one daughter, two sons, and several grandchildren between them. Heather served for years on the Board of Directors of the Tucson YWCA.  Today, they live in a retirement community near Tucson. “Although I’ve lived in Arizona for more than 40 years,” said Heather, “I return to the Ohio Valley to visit often, and I still consider West Virginia ‘home.”

Many other people helped out that first summer, but sorry to say, I can’t remember them all. I do remember a lovely family, the Hopwoods–Grace, Wendy, Jack, and their mother Thelma from Pittsburgh and Avella, volunteered quite often. The girls were almost permanent ushers. Then there were the actors from all over the valley who auditioned, whether they were cast or not in those first five shows.  Lots of talent showed up including our History of the Theatre and Oral Interpretation professor at West Liberty, Dr. Helen Kelly, and the West Liberty Dean of Women, Muriel Shennan, both of whom were perfectly cast in Arsenic and Old Lace.  So many wonderful people helped make the Playhouse a reality.

The following individuals and groups were mentioned in the first program and a few of the following were regretfully omitted:

Pete BasilDale and Rose Hukill
Bob HannahDavid Notostino
Becky VosoJohn Hubbard
Fred HerveyScotty Cross
Helen HubbardRay Mester
Charles FreyW.W. Harper, Sr.
Mark Murphy (senior)Charles Beall
J. Park McMullenBobby Harper
Jeannette MurphyAl DeGarmo
Richard StanleyNancy Patterson
Alice Hamilton (Antalis)Courtney Beall
George MeekerJohn Mester
Mark MesterPaul Lish
Calvin StanleyBob Hannah
Linda BirchMary Catherine Brehm Allodi
John RaszBob Mancuso
Russ HerveyJudy Cross
Steve FluhertySteve Rockwell
Jim Bob HerveySam Hubbard
Jean Ann McFaddenBrooke County Commission
Jim Sheets Franklin Volunteer Fire Dept.Wellsburg 1st Presbyterian Church
Franklin United Methodist ChurchBrooke Co. Youth Commission
Brooke County Park Board 

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