November 26 through December 5, Pontine Theatre presents, A New England Christmas, an annual event featuring the work of favorite regional authors. This year the program includes two seasonal stories: Honey & Myrrh (1898) by Hampton Falls’ Alice Brown and The Old Peabody Pew (1905) by Buxton, Maine’s Kate Douglas Wiggin. The cast for Pontine Theatre’s original adaptations are bunraku style puppets created by Pontine Co-Director, Greg Gathers. The puppets are voiced and animated by Gathers and Pontine Co-Director, Marguerite Mathews. Between the two stories audiences will enjoy a musical interlude by Dudley Laufman featuring seasonal songs. Live performances will be offered the weekend of November 26-28 at Pontine’s 1845 Plains Schoolhouse Theatre located on Plains Avenue in Portsmouth. The following weekend, December 3-5, Pontine offers online performances via the Zoom platform. Tickets are available at Pontine’s website — www.pontine.org
This production is underwritten by Piscataqua Savings Bank. Pontine’s 2021-22 Season is supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts.
Honey & Myrrh explores the lives of Miss Susan Peavy and her widowed brother-in-law, Solon Slade, residents of Tiverton Hollow, a little New Hampshire town thought to be based on the author’s hometown, Hampton Falls. The town’s young schoolmaster, a boarder at Susan’s house, witnesses her capable support of friends and neighbors. He sympathizes with her desire to provide the rich treasures of life on those she cares for. They share a fantasy of bestowing the riches and sweetness of heaven to those who surround them.
The Old Peabody Pew is set in the old Orthodox Meeting House in Buxton, Maine. When the Dorcas Society — A Ladies Aid Society — decides to clean and decorate the pews in the Old Meeting House for the Christmas holidays, each member agrees to take charge of her own family’s pew and that of surrounding pews. So it is that it falls to the middle-aged teacher, Nancy Wentworth, to clean the Peabody family’s pew, stirring memories of her almost romance, many years before with Justin Peabody, who went out west to seek his fortune, taking her heart with him.
Alice Brown (1857-1948) was born in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire. She graduated from the Robinson Seminary in Exeter in 1876 and taught school for several years while contributing short stories to various magazines. Her success as a writer allowed her to give up teaching and move to Boston in 1884. She was well-known for her local-colour dialect tales of New Hampshire country folk.
Kate Douglas Wiggin (1856-1912) was an author primarily of children’s books, including the well-known Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm( 1903), based on people, places and events from her childhood in Hollis and Buxton, Maine. She was educated at the Abbott Academy in Andover, Massachusetts The Old Peabody Pew is based on events in Buxton Maine, and her autobiography, My Garden of Memory (1923).
Dudley Laufman is still fully engaged in a 70-year career as a dance caller for local country dances throughout New England. He plays melodeon, harmonica and sometimes, when his fingers allow, his fiddle in old town halls, farmers’ markets, folk festivals, barn dances, kitchen junkets and for the Canterbury morris dance team. In 2001 he received the New Hampshire Governor’s Arts Award in Folk Heritage and in 2009 he was named National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts.