For the past three years, Evelyn Fox, Virginia Norton, Wanda Hill, Gail Nields, Joan Morton – and eventually, Bill Byrnes – have worked collectively to craft what eventually became “Captain John Smith: HiStory of McLean and Great Falls,” an original, three-act, history play. Over Thanksgiving weekend, local residents can see this play performed for the first time at the McLean Community Center.
“We did come up with a pageant that was originally about four hours long and would cost millions if everyone was in costume,” joked writer and executive producer Evelyn Fox.
Bill Byrnes, a McLean resident and active local thespian, joined the group and helped them cut the play down to a more manageable three acts. In addition, the group changed their narrator to the character of Capt. John Smith, and when the play’s director Jessie Roberts declared that Smith’s character needed a foil, Virginia Norton came up with the sidekick character of Younkers.
“Younkers is the actual name of what they called the boys who sailed and stayed with the settlers — like a cabin boy,” said Fox. “We made them both immortal and they march through our history, but we do start with John Smith telling about the landing in Jamestown, and they talk about what might have happened when they landed.”
Jessie Roberts said one of the most enjoyable aspects of her directing experience has been watching the evolution of the character of Younkers.
“We have an absolutely charming young man playing the role, and the interplay between Smith and his sidekick … has been really interesting to watch,” said Roberts. “Before Younker was introduced, Smith would just be on stage for pages at a time by himself, but now we have this somewhat irreverent young man, and through the course of the play he gets cheekier and cheekier.”
Roberts added that the character of Younkers has helped to keep an important element of entertainment throughout the show.
“It’s really been interesting because it is an original work and the group that wrote this is so concerned with the historical accuracy of it, and the educational value,” said Roberts. “It’s kind of been my job to bring that to the audience in a way that’s interesting, so they’re not just sitting through a history lecture.”
THE PLAY was an outgrowth of the McLean and Great Falls Celebrate Virginia 1607-2007 program, a local facet of the Jamestown 1607-2007 Celebrate Virginia state celebration. McLean and Great Falls Celebrate Virginia 1607-2007 is an official member of the state-wide communities program, and is a 501(c)3 organization.
“Captain John Smith: HiStory of McLean and Great Falls” traces the history of the McLean and Great Falls area from Smith’s 1608 exploration to the present day. This legacy project culminates five years of programs and projects dedicated to the collection, preservation and dissemination of local history, in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown on May 14, 1607.
“It’s just been a lot of fun watching it come to life and seeing these characters — seeing what someone might have said when they saw this new world,” said Fox. “The actors have given it life and all of us feel that we have learned history in the process.”
The production is co-sponsored by the McLean Community Center (MCC) and produced with the support of major donors in the McLean and Great Falls area.
SEVENTEENTH CENTURY Capt. John Smith, portrayed by Perry Swope, is an egotistical but endearing adventurer, who becomes immortal and takes the action of the play from beginning to end, exploring major historical events of the past 400 years in McLean and Great Falls. His teen sidekick, Younker, portrayed by Billy Puschel, a Madison High School student, accompanies him throughout play, providing a bit of hero worship. Other cast members include: Anne Kanter, Gail Seavey, Allison Hawley, Laura and Mike Clark, John Adams, Rolland Lamberton, Samuel Simon, Ed Thompson and Michael Sainte-Andrews. They portray an array of historic characters from George Washington and James and Dolley Madison to Bill Elvin, Rev. Cyrus Carter and Julia Smoot. Shelby Kemeny, Jesse Dennis, Rachel Granovsky, and Elijah Clark take on the roles of the children in the play. Great Falls resident Jessie Roberts, who directs the play, and Technical Director Bob Zeigler are well known for their work in community theatre area-wide.
Performances are Thanksgiving weekend at the McLean Community Center’s Alden Theatre, located at 1234 Ingleside Ave. in McLean. Evening performances are at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 23, and Saturday, Nov. 24. Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Saturday Nov. 24 and Sunday, Nov. 25. Tickets are available at the Alden Theatre Box Office. Adult tickets are $15, or $10 with a discount for McLean Community Center residents, and $5 for students and seniors. Non-discounted tickets are also available through Ticketmaster at www.ticketmaster.com or 703-573-SEAT (7328).