AMERICAN THEATER | This Month in Theater History

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October 1892 (130 years ago)

Diary of a performance by Lavinia Warren at the Lobero Theatre.
Portrait of Lavinia Warren by Matthew Benjamin Brady.

Billed as “Mrs. General Tom Thumb (Countess Magri) and the Lilliputians”, Lavinia Warren appeared at the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara, California, on October 19, 1892. She arrived on stage adorned with jewels, decoratively dressed and transported in an ornate carriage steered by neat mini-horses, and, for the entertainment of the evening, she and his troupe performed a series of sketches and scenes. By this time, at age 51, Lavinia had been a performer for over 35 years of her life. Due to a rare genetic condition, she had stopped growing in infancy and was about 32 inches tall. As a teenager, she was recruited by PT Barnum and quickly became a worldwide sensation. She and her first husband, Charles Stratton, performed together for years, traveling the world with their act and even received an invitation to the White House from President Abraham Lincoln after their marriage. A few years after Charles’s death in 1883, Lavinia married the musician Comte Primo Magri, and together they created and toured with their new company the “Lilliputiens”. Lavinia Warren remained a performer late in her life and died in 1919.

October 1972 (50 years ago)

The Indiana Repertory Theater opened at the Athenaeum in Indianapolis with a staging of Brandon Thomas’ farce Charley’s aunt. The production was directed by one of the theatre’s founders, Edward Stern. Stern had met fellow theater co-founders Benjamin Mordecai and Gregory Poggin when they were all graduate students at Indiana University. Together, the team hatched a plan for a repertory theater company and traveled to different cities across the country to set up, sending letters of interest to more than 90 US mayors. The city of Indianapolis has shown the most enthusiasm for a new theater and happens to be the closest location to the three collaborators. Charley’s Aunt, which opened on October 18, 1972, has set the theater on a sustained artistic path for more than 50 years. In 1980, the theater moved to its current home at the Indiana Theater, just steps from the Indiana State Capitol.

October 1987 (35 years ago)

Myra Carter and Madeleine Potter in “Abingdon Square”, 1987.

María Irene Fornés directed the premiere of her own work Abingdon Square at the American Place Theater for the women’s project. The play follows Marion, a teenager married to a much older man, and explores the constraints women face in domestic life. When Marion matures and embarks on an intimate affair that threatens her family commitments, the consequences force her to examine herself sexually alongside her social and family obligations. Critics admired Fornés’ text and direction. Mel Gussow, in an October 17 New York Times review, said that, in its direction, “Ms. Fornes came closest to realizing her intention as a playwright. The work received the 1988 Obie Award for Best New American Play.

October 1982 (40 years ago)

Over Easy, or Las aventuras del Huevothe first production of Meta Theatercreated at the University of California, San Diego Mandeville center auditorium. The production designed by Stephen Most, playwright Felipe Zatarain, directors William Virchis and Dr. Jorge Huerta, and the cast explored migration to San Diego’s Barrio Logan from Mexico in heartfelt comedic new work. Teatro Meta, the brainchild of directors Virchis, Huerta and Craig Noel, executive producer of San Diego’s Old Globe Theater, served as the first incubator for bilingual playwriting and education at the Old Globe. Later, Virchis and Huerta will collaborate to found Teatro Mascara Magica in 1989, a multicultural theater also located in San Diego County, now entering its 33rd year.

October 2002 (20 years ago)

Marga Gomez and Carmelita Tropicana in “Single Wet Female”.

A wet, wild and eerie new work by performance artists/comedians Carmelita Tropicana and Marga Gomez has premiered at Theater 122 At New York. single single woman– borrowing its name and basic central plot from the 1992 film Single white woman—has a white, blonde woman (Gomez) wanting a new roommate and getting way more than she bargained for when a dark-haired Latina stranger (Tropicana) moves in. Where the film titillates with a subtle homoeroticism, single single woman spit on subtlety in a work that defies heteronormativity, the male gaze and whiteness, while being both hilarious and Hitchcockian. After the performance in New York, the work toured across the United States, with stops in Austin and San Francisco.

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