Rehearsals are in process for “Salvage,” the final show of our 83rd season. Last week, playwright Joseph Zettelmaier joined director Greg Vinkler and actors Matt Holzfeind and Melanie Keller for a few days. Melanie was last at the Players in “Fox on the Fairway” and Matt performed in “Almost, Maine.” Joe was able to answer questions, give insights and tweak things just a bit for the Wisconsin debut of this new comedy-drama-mystery-romance that opens September 5.
We are very excited to have two playwrights collaborate with us this season. Sean Grennan was able to stay with us for the opening of his world première “Now and Then.” Unfortunately, Joe’s schedule is not as flexible, he could only be with us for a few days.
Peninsula Players was founded by a brother and sister team, Richard and Caroline Fisher. Richard aspired to be a playwright and many of his original works were produced at the theater. Richard served as artistic director, casting director and playwright, while his sisters, Caroline and Margot, performed and their mother Lydia, a graduate of the Pratt School of Design, built the costumes.
Since its inception, Peninsula Players has provided a variety of works laced with mystery, romance, drama, comedy and new works, much like our current season. In 1935, the Green Bay Press Gazette reported that six plays in rehearsal by the troupe included “Hay Fever,” which opened July 25, 1935, and “Camille,” “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” “The Second Man,” “Criminal at Large,” “The Vinegar Tree,” “School for Scandal,” “He Who Gets Slapped,” “The Theater of the Soul,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Lady from the Sea.”
Several of these were produced in Fish Creek, while others, such as “Romeo and Juliet,” were not. The Fishers once again tried to bring Shakespeare to Door County audiences in 1938 with “Twelfth Night.” I mentioned in a previous article that Caroline Fisher married Rodion Rathbone in 1938 and her matron of honor, Constance Collier, was slated to direct “Twelfth Night.”
Constance Collier, similar to Caroline’s father-in-law Basil Rathbone, was a well-renowned English Shakespearean performer. Constance was a member of actor-manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s theater company. Herbert built Her Majesty’s Theatre and had been searching for a formidable tall leading lady to play opposite him. Constance developed a powerful stage resume portraying Shakespeare’s Olivia, Viola, Portia, Mistress Ford and Cleopatra. In 1925, she played Queen Gertrude in a production of “Hamlet” opposite John Barrymore at Haymarket Theatre.
Constance made her American stage debut 1908 at the Garrick Theatre with well-established William Gillette, the actor/playwright who brought Sherlock Holmes to the stage. Her Broadway credits also include “Israel” (1909), “Trelawney of the Wells” (1911), “Oliver Twist” (1912), “Othello” (1915) and “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (1917).
In 1918, while performing “The Ideal Husband” on Broadway with her Irish husband, Julian L’Estrange, he contracted the Spanish flu and died from pneumonia at the age of 40. She returned to England for a time and appeared in several silent films including “Bleak House,” “The Impossible Woman” and “The Bohemian Girl.” She returned to America and filmed “Wee Willie Winkie” with Shirley Temple and “Stage Door” with Katharine Hepburn in 1937.
When “talking pictures” emerged in Hollywood, Constance career turned to training. She continued to be in films – more than 25 during her career. Constance soon became established as Hollywood’s most famous and influential drama and voice coach. As this new career blossomed she had less time for the stage. One of her final film roles was as Lady Markby, in Alfred Hitchcock‘s “Rope “(1948). Constance died in 1955.
Peninsula Players had an exciting year in 1938. Caroline got married and the fourth season was to include “Night Must Fall,” a psychological murder drama, Richard Fisher’s new work, “This Mercy We Have Shown,” Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan” and “Twelfth Night” was to open August 11 with Caroline returning from Hollywood to portray Viola under the direction of famous Constance Collier.
Shakespeare has never been produced at Peninsula Players. “Romeo and Juliet” was under consideration in 1935 but not selected, while “Twelfth Night” was scheduled for 1938. Why was it not performed? What happened?
According The Los Angeles Times of June 24, 1938, actress Isa Miranda, who was billed as the Italian Marlene Dietrich, asked to be relieved of the assignment of filming “Zaza” because of injuries received in an automobile accident. How did this accident in Los Angeles affect theater in Fish Creek?
Constance was cast in this film directed by George Cukor. With the departure of the leading actress, Paramount studios called upon Claudette Colbert to return from her European vacation to take over the lead and its shooting schedule was altered.
Caroline wrote a letter which was published the Green Bay Gazette August 20, 1938 to her apologize for not being able to produce “Twelfth Night” because of scheduling conflicts and an “important test” she was making for David Selznick.
“I would rather be up there when the curtain goes up on ‘Lady Windemere’s Fan,’” Caroline wrote. “Miss Collier (Constance Collier) had expected she would be through doing ‘Zaza’ in time to go up to Fish Creek with me. But they changed the lead from Isa Miranda to Claudette Colbert and therefore production was extended through the whole month of August, so that she was absolutely unable to come.”
“The Dark Tower” a murder mystery by Alexander Woollcott and George S. Kaufman was selected to replace “Twelfth Night.” Earlier in the season the mystery “Night Must Fall” was extended because a large group of patrons had to be turned away from its final performance.
Caroline and Rodion were newlyweds in the summer of 1938 and they lived in a world of celebrity, marriage and love much like the lead characters of our current offering, “Living on Love.” This comedy is set in the 1950s and Diva and Maestro have been balancing their careers and marriage for 30 years. “Living on Love” is a glamorous and hilarious romp through the lifestyles of the rich and famous where sparks fly, silverware is thrown and romance blossoms! Visit our website www.peninsulaplayers.com to learn more or call the Box Office at (920) 868-3287. We hope you will join us by the bay, where the sun sets, the curtain rises and the stars shine!