Peninsula Players Theatre is thrilled to announce the cast for “The Dust of Death,” an adaptation by Neil Brookshire of Fred Merrick White’s science-fiction short story, “The Dust of Death: The Story of the Great Plague of the Twentieth Century.” “The Dust of Death” makes its world première Monday, February 1 at 7 p.m. as part of The Play’s the Thing, the theater’s winter play reading series. The audio play will stream for one night only through the theater’s ticketing system. Admission to the virtual production is limited to 300 households. A virtual pass is available through the theater’s ticketing system. Listening is free; donations are welcome.
Death comes to London in the form of a horrific plague that inevitably spreads from person to person, causing great turmoil and havoc throughout the city. Adapted from one of the most frightening and captivating science-fiction short stories of the early 20th Century, “The Dust of Death” is a race against time as Dr. Label and Dr. Hubert reveal the source of the plague and offer their treatment before all of London is wiped-out.
Featured in the cast are Peninsula Players veteran performers Cassandra Bissell (“Silent Sky,” “Miss Holmes”) as the narrator and Erica Elam (“Now and Then,” “The Actuary”) as Mrs. Fillingham, a nurse and several others. Sean Fortunato (“The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Lend Me a Tenor”) is cast as Dr. Alan Hubert and Neil Friedman (“Lombardi” and “Over the Tavern”) portrays several characters, including Dr. Walker and the Chief Inspector. Artistic Director Greg Vinkler (“Now and Then,” “Butler”) portrays Dr. Label, the medical man and scientist scrambling with Dr. Hubert to save all of London. The cast is under Kevin Christopher Fox’s direction, who directed the virtual play readings this summer of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “Trifles.”
The cast, director and playwright have numerous regional and Chicago theater credits, including work with Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Cleveland Play House, Court Theatre, First Folio Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Great Lakes Theater, Milwaukee Rep, Northlight Theatre, Porchlight Music Theatre, Renaissance Theaterworks, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Theatre at the Center, TimeLine Theatre Company and Writers Theatre as well as the Idaho and Utah Shakespeare Festivals. They all have performed in more than a dozen stage productions and readings with Peninsula Players Theatre.
Fred Merrick White (1859–1935) published an opus of novels and short stories covering romance, crime and science fiction. The stories appeared in various newspapers and magazines of the times all over England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. His best know work is “The Doom of London,” a collection of six science-fiction stories in which various catastrophes beset London. By 1892, White was a full-time journalist, author and married Clara Jane Smith. They had two sons, both of whom served in the First World War, and their experiences influenced his novel “The Seed of Empire.”
Peninsula Players Theatre commissioned Brookshire to craft this original adaptation of “The Dust of Death” for the first of its winter play reading series, The Play’s the Thing. “The Dust of Death” is produced in coordination with NEA Big Read: Door County and its exploration of “Station Eleven,” a futuristic post-apocalyptic novel by Emily St. John Mandel.
“As we were headed towards Christmas this past year, I had asked Neil Brookshire, who makes Door County his home, if he could write something for the holidays that we could post on our website,” Artistic Director Greg Vinkler said. Peninsula Players patrons will recognize Brookshire from his performances in “Silent Sky,” “A Trick of the Light,” “Miss Holmes,” “A Murder is Announced” and “The 39 Steps.”
“I had enjoyed watching several of his short films earlier and found them original, clever, and well put together,” Vinkler said. “Recently, he worked on an idea with Cassandra Bissell, and the delightful result was a short original piece called ‘It Sounds Like a Christmas Carol,’ which was both funny and moving, as well as excellently produced.”
As Vinkler was working on the programming for The Play’s the Thing and its collaboration with NEA Big Read: Door County, he came across Fred M. White’s story. “I thought immediately of Neil’s creative abilities as a writer and how he could vibrantly bring this very different type of material to life,” he said.
Brookshire is a Wyoming native who now resides in Door County, as does Bissell. Brookshire spent 10 seasons with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival and has performed with Company of Fools, Boise Contemporary Theater, Door Shakespeare, Idaho Dance Theatre, Opera Idaho and Seattle Novyi Theatre. He is a visual artist and founder of Dirt Hills Productions.
“We are elated to once again bring winter arts programming to our patrons featuring these talented artists,” Kelsey said. “The Play’s the Thing events have become very popular, and they typically draw standing room only crowds. Using this method of virtual presentation, we are excited that up to 300 households can participate, more than doubling the potential attendance and gaining an audience beyond Door County.”
The Play’s the Thing 2021 winter series presents theatrical works that are not in the public domain. As part of the negotiations for the rights with playwrights and royalty houses, the productions must live on a password-protected platform with a designated starting and stopping time. All of the virtual presentations will be for one night only and will not be available for playback.
“For these upcoming virtual events, participants need to create or log in to our ticketing system,” Kelsey said. “Once you have an account, reserve your pass for the reading. Then on the evening of the event, log into the system at least 10 to 15 minutes before it begins to give yourself ample time to troubleshoot any technical difficulties. Once the reading is finished, it will no longer be available to stream.”
Tutorial videos on creating an account and accessing the virtual events are available on the theater’s website on The Play’s the Thing page on www.peninsulaplayers.com. The second offering is the magical comedy “Bell, Book and Candle” by John Van Druten on March 1 and the play selection for April 5 is yet to be announced.
NEA Big Read: Door County is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. The partnership between the Door County Library and Peninsula Players began 13 years ago when the two organizations collaborated to bring The Big Read to Door County. A full listing of events is available at www.doorcountyreads.org.
The Play’s the Thing is funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment of the Arts, as well as generous grants from Door County Medical Center, Friends of Door County Libraries, The Shubert Foundation and operating funds of Peninsula Players Theatre.
Peninsula Players is America’s Oldest Professional Resident Summer Theatre. The Play’s the Thing theater’s continued winter outreach programming, dedicated to presenting professional play readings for the public. The Play’s the Thing presents fully-cast play readings for free to Door County audiences and will be offered virtually in 2021. Learn more about Peninsula Players and its rich history at www.peninsulaplayers.com or call the Box Office weekdays at (920) 868-3287.