Comments from the audience:
“Kudos to the entire Ivoryton Playhouse team! Outstanding acting, directing, set design, music and portrayal of such a dark subject matter. I was moved to tears.”
“Strongly recommend seeing this premier production. I suggest you put your “mental seat belt” on during intermission because the second half is the turbulent ride that the first act has been gently foreshadowing. The subject matter is thought provoking and forces us to be introspective about our present outlooks on social issues. You are not likely to leave the theater feeling blasé”.
“This play will move you, it will take you on a ride into a dark chapter of this country’s history by visiting a kitchen in Celestial, Alabama during the summer of 1961. You will visit the world of woman in the KKK, both the good and the bad. At the end of the play Disturbed’s version of the Sounds of Silence will deposit you back into 2018. You will ask yourself, my gosh, are we heading back to this now? It is thought provoking, It is eye opening, It is a daring play. It is a must see.”
“Haven’t stopped thinking about this powerful play since I saw it! Timely and brilliantly acted!”
Reviews from the Critics:
Catharsis at the Ivoryton Playhouse: The Queens of the Golden Mask
By Brooks Appelbaum
Special to the Times
ESSEX: Carole Lockwood’s “Queens of the Golden Mask,” a world premiere running from October 31 through November 18, brings to the Ivoryton Playhouse audience a rare opportunity to experience catharsis at a time when theater can help us process the disturbing events of our time. We have Artistic Director Jacqueline Hubbard to thank, both for including this remarkable play in Ivoryton’s season, and for directing it with insight, sensitivity, and brilliance.
Hubbard has said that she chose the script in part because of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last August. “This is not a political play,” she states. “The main reason for doing this play is that it can be a catalyst for conversation. If we don’t learn from history, then we’re just doomed to repeat it.”
The first act is set in 1961, in Celestial, Alabama, a small town just south of Birmingham. As women friends bring various cakes, cookies, and pies into Ida’s kitchen, preparing for a social gathering, it becomes clear that Ida—nicknamed “Moma”— is very much the matriarch of the group. Expertly played by Ellen Barry, Ida’s motherly warmth shows flashes of flinty despotism. She describes her daughter-in-law, Martha Nell Sage (a heartbreaking Sarah Jo Provost) as having “sawdust between her ears,” and gives Martha Nell orders as she might a servant—or a slave.
Martha Nell is white, of course, but the question of “color” comes up early. Rose (a sincere Anna Fagan), newly married and having just moved to Celestial from Ohio, has been invited so the friends can decide whether she will be an appropriate seventh member of the “Women’s Auxiliary” group, which needs seven women to be official. As Faith (the stunning and chilling Gerrianne Genga) sweetly interrogates Rose about her feelings regarding “darkies,” Rose learns two things: the “Auxiliary” is a women’s branch of the Ku Klux Klan; and if you don’t belong, you don’t belong in Celestial, Alabama.
The whole of the story covers the next two years, bringing us up to 1963 (the year of the Birmingham church bombing, which Lockwood cleverly keeps in the background, trusting her audiences to make the connections themselves). To reveal more of what happens, especially to Rose and Martha Nell, would do the production, and the audience, a disservice; but know that the ending is clear-eyed, hard-hitting, and honest.
Lockwood’s script is riveting, though it needs some revision of the plot. However, she is a master at creating sharply etched characters, all of whom (with two exceptions) remain, throughout the action, sympathetic in their self-deceit. And Hubbard’s casting is superb. In addition to Provost, Genga, Fagan, and Barry, the other women—Jes Bedwineck (the tough and playful Jean), Bonnie Black (the sweetly dithering Ophelia, older than all except Ida), and Bethany Fitzgerald (the simple-minded Kathy Two)—inhabit their characters, and their deep friendship, with a remarkable level of authenticity.
Using every inch of the Ivoryton stage up to its rafters, Dan Nischan has created a terrifically realistic set that focuses on Ida’s kitchen, but also includes the front porch and a back shed, both of which enclose crucial scenes. Marcus Abbot’s lighting enhances both the atmosphere and the plot, and Elizabeth A. Saylor’s costumes perfectly delineate each woman’s unique and vivid personality.
Hubbard has also collaborated with Sound Designer Tate R. Burmeister to create music and sound that bring out the nuanced power in Lockwood’s script. Weaving classic hymns throughout the scenes, Hubbard reminds us that these women adamantly believe they are doing Jesus’ work. And the final rallying cry and curtain song warn us that this story’s history is all too close at hand.
Ivoryton Playhouse has given us a sensationally fun, beautifully acted, and strongly directed season this year. Ending with a world premiere—a serious play that speaks with tough eloquence to the moment in which we live—is courageous, but the choice goes far beyond that. “Queens of the Golden Mask” does what the best of art does: while telling a compelling story, it challenges us to examine our pre-conceptions, no matter what they may be. This is not a production to be missed.
THE QUEENS OF THE GOLDEN MASK
Reviewed by Tony Annicone
“The Queens of the Golden Mask”, a world premiere, is currently running at the historic Ivoryton Playhouse. Carole Lockwood’s new play pulls aside the Cotton Curtain to reveal a piece of history that tells a little known story and also raises a warning. It starts off in 1961 and moves two years later in Act 2. The normalizing of hate is dangerous and toxic, not only to the objects of the hatred but eventually destroying those who are caught up in its comfortable complacency. The play is based on the experiences of Elizabeth H. Cobbs written by Petric Smith who also wrote the autobiographical “Long Time Coming: An Insiders Story of the Birmingham Church Bombing That Rocked the World”. Smith’s work provides more than an insiders account of one of the most atrocious events of the civil rights era; it is also the personal journey of a woman inside the world of the most extreme opponents of racial justice. In the violent world of the Klan, women were subservient; men beat their wives with impunity in order to maintain white male supremacy But there were many who, quietly and with great moral courage, put their lives on the line. This is their story. They hide behind a religious facade while performing despicable actions, pretending they are only in a patriotic social club.
Director Jacqui Hubbard takes this story that could have been ripped out of today’s headlines and casts 7 incredible actresses in this dramatic yet sprinkled with humorous incidents along the way. She directs these women on a terrific unit set of kitchen, front stoop and outside the house area by Daniel Nischan with marvelous lighting by Marcus Abbott which figures greatly in this show with the overhead kitchen light and the authentic 1960’s costumes by Elizabeth Cipollina who also designed the scary Ku Klux Klan outfits worn at the end of Act 1 during an initiation ceremony which leaves the audience stunned but eager to find out what happens to these women two years later during the Birmingham Church Bombing.
Thunderous applause is given to this talented cast as the awful and tragic sounds of the Charlottesville riots end this show while the red lights display the tragic events of the church bombing mixed together with two other tragic deaths. The show ends with the Simon and Garfunkel song “The Sounds of Silence” which demonstrates we can’t stand by and let these atrocious things happen not back then and not now in this country so divided by unrest and dissatisfaction with the American government.
These seven women are all easily identifiable under Jacqui’s direction and gives each of them their moment to shine in this show. She uses religious music in between scenes including “In the Sweet Bye and Bye”, “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Shall We Gather at the River.” Each of these women are very talented and deliver the goods in their roles. The mother figure of this story is Ida who is the backbone of this group of staunch supporters of segregation.
Ida’s played wonderfully by Ellen Barry. Ida is sweet and nice but also has a darker sinister side to her. The Queens are very near and dear to her. They are her pride and joy and when anyone crosses her, there is hell to pay with the Kiss of Death. Once somebody joins the Klan there is never any escape.
One of her friends is Faith Carlyle, an Avon Lady who shares her husband’s involvement with the Klan is excellently played by Gerianne Genga. Faith is part of Ida’s close circle of friends. She is used to entice Rose, the northerner who moves to town to join this religious and social group. Faith spews some hateful dialogue to convince Rose to join the group, explaining that she was a Southerner from Atlanta who moved to Alabama so Faith understood how Celestial women felt.
Ida’s daughter-in-law, Martha Nell Sage is vulnerable, lonely and gentle and fabulously played by Sarah Jo Provost. She’s quite a contrast to Ida when the older woman’s dander is aroused. This character is verbally abused by Ida and her plight tugs on your heartstrings when you learn about her five pregnancies and how her husband and his mother really treat her. This character is smarter than the audience is led to believe at first.
One of the most colorful ladies of this group is Fifi Barnett who is a lifetime member of the Queens, played perfectly by Bonnie Black. She is unloved and unnoticed by her husband and resorts to putting on airs as well as gossips up a storm, too. She has been a long time member who brings a coconut cake to the meeting and hopes they can gather seven women together to reinstate the charter of the Queens again. Fifi always argues with Jean but they reach a truce in Act 2 and buy ice cream together while laughing up a storm while a tragic death takes place across town which was initiated by the sheep in wolf’s clothing, Ida.
A complicated character is Jean Mooney who is tough on the outside with her wisecracks and gruff demeanor but hides an intelligent side which emerges in Act 2. Jes Bedwineck brings great depth to this character who at first comes off as a royal pain in the butt but turns the tide later on. The young bride of the Mayor’s son is Kathy (Two) Boggs who seems to always be pregnant. Kathy is very anxious to be a grown up while still is a youngster at heart. Bethany Fitzgerald as Kathy, fantastically plays the young gal who wants to be a Queen so desperately in Act 1 and then turns on a dime when she receives tragic news about Kathy One who moved away and whose death greatly changes her perception of things. She delivers a poignant and touching crying scene on her dramatic exit.
The only Yankee in the group is Rose Jackson who just moved South recently from Ohio. Rose is a teacher who is intelligent, kind and good hearted. Anna Fagan is dynamite as this woman brought to the South by her new husband and who is thrust into this insidious situation. She ponders what she should do. Rose becomes very close to Martha Nell and treats her like her little sister. Her acceptance into the Queens society in Act 1 is startling. Rose learns what is really happening in the town through Martha after she taught her how to read and write. Martha’s in the midst of a medical crisis when Rose learns the truth. Finally events lead up to a climatic revelation in Act 2 where she stands up to the oppressive society, calling them out on their evil and duplicitous behavior even when she is threatened with the Kiss of Death and how no one can ever escape from the Klan after taking a blood oath from them.
The exposition of this new script needs to be tightened up because Act 1 is a little on the longish side but after learning who is who, the second act grabs you and never lets go, hoping you learn from the past and try not to make the same mistakes now and in the future. Speak up and do something about things that are not just and right. Do not sit idly by while injustices take place, get out there and vote so things like this don’t happen.
So for a very timely play that will wake you up to face reality, be sure to catch “Queens of the Golden Mask” to see terrific direction and acting in a world premiere right here in Ivoryton, CT at the historic Ivoryton Playhouse.
THE QUEENS OF THE GOLDEN MASK (31 October to 18 November)
Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton, CT
(860)767-7318 or www.ivorytonplayhouse.org
“Jacqueline Hubbard embraces the risk of exposing the roots of this insidious evil as she directs this revealing and monumental work. Based on a true story, this drama tells what happens when women inside the fold stand morally upright in protest and for civil rights and humanity.”
Review by Bonnie Goldberg for the Middletown Press and member of the Connecticut Critics Circle
Ellen Barry and Sarah Jo Provost talk about The Queens of the Golden Mask on stage now until November 18.
Haunting and powerful, this brand new play pulls aside the Cotton Curtain to reveal a hidden piece of history that tells a little known story and also raises a warning. The normalizing of hate is dangerous and toxic – not only to the objects of the hatred but eventually destroying those who are unwittingly caught up in its comfortable complacency.
The play is based on the experiences of Elizabeth H. Cobbs/Petric Smith who wrote the autobiographical Long Time Coming: An Insiders Story of the Birmingham Church Bombing that Rocked the World. Smith’s work provides more than an insider’s account of one of the most atrocious events of the civil rights era; it is also the personal journey of a woman inside the world of the most extreme opponents of racial justice. In the violent world of the Klan, women were subservient; men beat their wives with impunity in order to sustain white male supremacy. Most women were partners in the goal of maintaining white supremacy but there were many who, quietly and with great moral courage, put their lives on the line. This is their story.
Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm.
There will be a talk back with the cast and director plus guests after every performance on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.
Tickets are $50 for adults; $45 for seniors; $25 for students and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting our website at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org
Our thanks to Overabove for producing this video clip for the Playhouse.