Bonny Eagle actors save ‘Peabody Pew’ tradition

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Carolyn Vail helps Bonny Eagle High School drama student Katie Tanner with her costume. Vail plays Maria Sharp for the 25th year and Tanner is Widow Buzzell.

Carolyn Vail helps Bonny Eagle High School drama student Katie Tanner with her costume. Vail plays Maria Sharp for the 25th year and Tanner is Widow Buzzell.

Sharon House, director of the 154th performance of  “The Old Peabody Pew,” in rehearsal Sunday adjusts the positioning of Sally Bixby played by Nicole Sanborn, 10, a Hollis Elementary School student.

Sharon House, left, director of  “The Old Peabody Pew,” chats after rehearsal with Carla Turner, costume director.

Rehearsal Sunday in Tory Hill Meeting House for the 154th performance of the “The Old Peabody Pew” on Dec. 3 in Buxton.

Nicole Sanborn, 10, a student at Hollis Elementary School in SAD 6, plays Sally Bixby.

BUXTON — Despite a close call, the Christmas season show, “The Old Peabody Pew,” at Tory Hill goes on this year like it has for more than a century.

Director Sharon House struggled this year to find actors for the romantic comedy by famed children’s author Kate Douglas Wiggin that was first staged in 1916. With the show in jeopardy, five Bonny Eagle High School drama students and a church pastor stepped in to keep the tradition alive.

The Dorcas Society of Hollis and Buxton, founded by Wiggin in 1897, sponsors the show. Sunday marked the show’s first rehearsal for the students.

They were “last-minute recruits,” House said Monday.

The students rescued the performance, House said, and she hopes the “ghost of Kate Douglas Wiggin” will watch.

The curtain goes up at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 3, at the historic Tory Hill Meeting House, at the intersection of routes 202 and 112, in Buxton. It marks the 154th production of the two-act show that once was staged twice yearly.

The show traditionally packs the church.

Admission is $5; children under 12, $2.50. Cider and cookies will be served before the curtain goes up and a tree lighting follows the performance.

Bonny Eagle students this year fill the play’s two lead roles. Justin Peabody, played by  Christopher Hascall, comes back to town nearly penniless but hoping to marry Nancy Wentworth, played by Marisa Pierce. Peabody years before had left Wentworth behind to seek a fortune.

They become central figures of sewing circle gossip.

The play was first produced in 1916 and Hascall is optimistic the production will successfully be performed this year. “It’s going to be the best one we’ve ever put on,” Hascall said after rehearsal.

Three other Bonny Eagle students also came forward as key cast members. They are Hattie Skvorak playing Lobelia Brewster; Katie Tanner as Widow Buzzell; and Abby Tanner as Mrs. Sargent.

The Rev. Allison Curry, pastor at the church, also agreed to play a role. On the show, she is the pastor’s wife, Mrs. Baxter.

Karla Fossett once again is Mrs. Burbank.

Nicole Sanborn, 10, is the youngest cast member. A student at Hollis Elementary School, she plays Sally Bixby, a role that Wiggin, who lived in Hollis, wrote into the script as a gift for a neighboring girl.

While the play features new faces, this year marks the 25th performance for Carolyn Vail as Maria Sharp. “I inherited it,” said Vail, whose mother had been cast in the role.

Debbi Nielsen of Buxton, a society member, said the play has been produced every year except when Wiggin died in 1923 and during the World War II years. It had looked like it wouldn’t happen this year as well, but then “everything just fell into place,” said Nielsen, Sanborn’s grandmother.

She thanked the Bonny Eagle students and the church. “It’s awesome,” she said.

Carla Turner, who owns the Wiggin home, named Quillcote, outfitted the cast members Sunday with their vintage costumes. Turner was interested in the authentic details of costuming, as she scurried among the women after rehearsal. “Does everybody have a purse?” she asked.

House coached players with their lines and guided their positioning.

House, 76, who has played multiple roles through the years, returned as director and has ties with the production more than 40 years. She first directed the play 20 years ago.

Vail and House are instrumental staging the classic this year. “Sharon and I took the bull by the horns,” Vail said.

House said they are hoping to keep the tradition alive. “I hope it won’t be the last,” she said about this year’s performance.

Robert Lowell can be reached 854-2577 or rlowell@keepmecurrent.com.