Revenge-seeking ghost stalks the stage at Hubbard Hall

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CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. — In the Northshire of Bennington County, Vt., the name "Russell Colvin" conjures images of dastardly deeds and a ghost seeking revenge for murder. However, across the border in Cambridge, N.Y., most of the calls to the Hubbard Hall box office say the name with glee.

That's because award-winning actor Oliver Wadsworth is bringing his version of the supernatural tale from another time to the famed Victorian opera house in his one-man play, "The Tarnation of Russell Colvin."

Written by and starring Wadsworth in a multitude of roles, the show — which opens Friday and runs through Jan. 28 — is having the most extended stay it will have at a performance venue since he and director Kirk Jackson premiered the work last June at Dorset Theatre Festival.

Hubbard Hall executive and artistic director David Snider said he's been wanting to bring the show to the venue for a while.

"The story, as local history, is a natural fit for Hubbard Hall," Snider said. "We have a 19th century opera house, and this is a 19th century ghost story, so it's a beautiful bit of time travel to have this piece on our stage."

Audiences, Snider continued, will get a good feel for the epic, old-world, yet very fresh performance that Wadsworth and Jackson have carefully crafted from a true story.

The play is based on Russell Colvin, whose 1819 murder in Manchester Village, Vt. spurred local debate between the presence of a ghost and an imposter.

According to historical accounts and legend, Colvin, who was married to the expecting Sally Boorn, vanished without a trace. Sally's brothers, Jesse and Stephen Boorn, were suspected of foul play. In 1825, the ghost of Colvin reportedly appeared to Sally's uncle Amos, claiming the two brothers killed him. This led Amos to dig up some of Russell's artifacts in the Boorn cellar — after having been led there by Colvin's ghost.

The two brothers were tried and convicted of murder, and Stephen was sentenced to hang. Then Colvin miraculously appeared and exonerated the brothers of his killing. But almost immediately, he vanished.

"The story also shows us that there have always been extraordinary people in our midst who might be different from us but who deserve and demand our respect," Snider said. "Our society has struggled with how to accept those who are different. It's a hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking look into how much society has changed, and how much it hasn't, since 1819."

To perfect this message, the two principals have worked extensively on the play's development. Wadsworth said that after several readings and the play's premiere at Dorset Theatre Festival, he and Jackson struck forth on a tour of old Vermont town halls.

Those performances allowed the play to mature, Wadsworth said, and also created memorable experiences.

"Each of the town halls we performed in have their own unique painted theater curtains circa 1900," Wadsworth said. "We enjoyed integrating them into the show. It gives the audience an opportunity to see these incredible works of art, normally rolled up and hidden from view, in the way they were originally intended — live theater performance."

In South Londonderry, Vt., Wadsowrth and Jackson brought along footlights, because the hall had not been used as a theater in a long time and "the electric wiring was a little sketchy."

"We used yellow gels to imitate the original gas lighting, and the effect was magical," Wadsworth said. "We are so looking forward to going to Hubbard Hall because it is the perfect venue to stage the play."

Jackson agreed with Wadsworth about Hubbard Hall. Jackson has directed two operas there, "Gianni Schicchi" and "Rigoletto," so he is familiar with its acoustics and period ambiance.

Jackson also emphasized the company's support as influential in taking "Tarnation" to another level.

"We greatly appreciate the early support we received from places like Dorset Theatre Festival and I wouldn't wish for that to upstage the importance of this run at Hubbard Hall, and the attention and support we're enjoying from David Snider's organization," Jackson said.

Specifically, Jackson pointed out a number of firsts the play will experience at Hubbard Hall.

"We get to work with a lighting designer, get days of tech, and get to do it over two weekends," Jackson said. "It's a lovely match of space and material. Local history presented in the dramaturgical style of a 19th century touring one-man show, on a stage that still has many elements from the period."

Snider believes that unlike previous performances of "Tarnation," Hubbard Hall's production qualities will help audiences discover the play and the story further. He stressed that those who might have taken in one of the earlier shows will be "delighted by the play's growth."

"Audiences will get a greater sense of space, place and time from the lighting design by Calvin Anderson and the costume design by Richard MacPike," Snider said. "The show will use our grand drape, street scene and forest scenery, dating back to 1890s. On our old 19th century raked stage, this local history mystery will come alive in new ways and really draw audiences into [its] world."

Contact award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias at tchalkias@aol.com or on Twitter: @TellyHalkias






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