Original Play Keeps Local WWII History Alive
By Sarah Jusseaume
Hampton Union, Sunday, August 3, 2003
HAMPTON - Go see the summer production of "With Love, Till I Come Marching Home" at ACT ONE Hampton Summer Theatre and you'll be struck not only by the extraordinary performances but, more than anything, by the words.
[Photo left: Actors of Act One Hampton Summer Theatre perform "with Love: Till I Come Marching Home Wednesday at Winnacunnet High School. Staff photo by Jackie Ricciardi]
The words were penned by Seacoast residents who lived through World War II. The play was produced by the ACT ONE theater group, which has been producing summer theater in Hampton for the past four years.
The production has been more than a year in the making and was a labor of love for its local creators, Michael Letch and Jenn Vento. Vento directed the ACT ONE production, and Letch is an actor in the play. Letch brought the idea to ACT ONE's executive producer, Stephanie Nugent.
"We met at a Starbucks and (Letch) told me he had this great idea for a play," Nugent said. "After I heard his ideas, I thought that it was a gorgeous idea and that it had to be done."
So the process began - doing the research and talking to as many people as they could. Letch and Vento went to nursing homes and put ads in newspapers, asking people to come forward and share their memories.
"At first, I didn't think we would get enough information," Nugent said. "But the response was tremendous."
The play premiered in Portsmouth at the Players' Ring in February. After some tweaking, it was brought to ACT ONE.
"It's a great story," Nugent said. "This did not come from someone's imagination. They are true words, and nothing is so amazing and powerful as oral history."
Many of the contributors have seen the play.
"It was a great opportunity for the actors to meet the people that they are portraying," Nugent said. "How often do actors get to do that?"
Elaine "Mickey" Hussey of Portsmouth was one of the major contributors to the play. She first heard about it through an ad in the paper. She was interviewed by the Vento and Letch, but most of her contributions were made through a book of memoirs that was put together by the Portsmouth High School Class of 1940.
The memoir was created and is for sale to help raise money for a Portsmouth World War II memorial, which would be dedicated to the 74 men from that city who lost their lives during the war.
Hussey was 18 years old when she graduated from high school in 1940.
"We had just gone through the Depression, and we thought we had it made," she recalled. "Then the war came, and everything changed. This play meant a great deal to all of us who lived through that time."
During the play, at least 20 actors, sang and danced to music popular during the 1940s. Each character had his or her own story to tell from the war.
The actor portraying Hussey sat at a kitchen table and talked about the letters she had written.
The play seemed to resonate with the audience. As the actors talked about waiting in line for their rations of butter and sugar, two women nudged each other and laughed.
Hussey said she remembers well the shortage of pantyhose.
"We had to wear the leg makeup if we didn't have pantyhose," she said. "And when it rained it would spatter on your legs and you looked like you had a disease."
About 150 people attended Saturday night's performance of "With Love: Till I Come Marching Home." Shows continue tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m., to be followed, starting on Wednesday, Aug. 6, at 2 p.m., with Susan Poulin's "Franco Fry." Tickets range from $17-$25. Call 926-2281 for reservations.