To mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Shadow Players are staging "The Last Geese of Autumn" by local playwright Patrick Perkins. Celebrating the patriotism and sacrifice of American families on the home front, the play was inspired in part by the wartime experiences of his parents.
"The Last Geese of Autumn" appears onstage in Kilduff Hall at St. Frances de Sales Church, 1450 Abingdon Road in Abingdon, at 8 p.m. for three nights: July 30 and 31 and Aug. 1. Tickets are available at www.shadowplayerstheatre.org for $5 or at the door for $10. For more information, call Erin Perkins, 410-292-3622
"My father fought in World War II as a member of the Seabees and my mother was a Rosie the Riveter working, I think, at [Glenn L.] Martin's on airplanes," Perkins, a civil trial attorney who lives in Bel Air, said. "Around the dinner table [in Dundalk] we would hear stories of both our parents, my five siblings and I. As a lover of history and this year being the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, it was my wish to honor both my parents and all those who sacrificed, both on the front and at home, so that the world might be free."
The play focuses on the Devlin family and their neighbors, the Richardsons, during a cycle of three holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas and the 4th of July – from 1941 to 1944.
"Thanksgiving 1941 in the Devlin home is the calm before the storm. The mother and oldest daughter are preparing Thanksgiving and awaiting the arrival of the rest of the family. We see the kitchen and dining room table. A kids' table is set up in the corner. It's traditional, comfortable and familiar. It gives us an idea of what these people are used to before their entire world is flipped upside down," said Perkins' son, Conor, who directs the play.
Cast and crew members have been encouraged to bring in artifacts from their families that connect to World War II. The set includes the kitchen table and military flag that belonged to the playwright's parents as well as ration books and first aid books from the 1940s. Rebecca Lewis, who plays Margaret Mary Devlin, wears some dresses her grandmother wore in the 1940s. The lobby will be decorated with discharge papers, newspaper clippings, photographs and letters.
Conor Perkins' sisters, Erin and Shannon, play two of the Devlin sisters, Eileen and Kathleen. Both remember their grandparents telling stories about their experiences during the war. In particular, Erin recalls the gruesome story told by her grandmother about a woman working next to her whose fingers were severed on the job. The dedicated woman wrapped her hand in her bandanna and kept working.
"My grandfather prepared landing sites under enemy fire," Shannon said. "Our father [Patrick] was named after Grandfather's friend who was killed [in action]. His name was Patrick Devlin."
During the summer of 2008, the Perkins youngsters, Erin, who had just graduated from Bel Air High School, Conor, a rising sophomore, and Shannon, a rising seventh grader, were at loose ends and wanted "to do theatre." They formed their own theatre company and took its name from a quote in their first production, "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
It came from Puck's final monologue, when he refers to the players as shadows: "If we shadows have offended…"
The Shakespeare play was presented at St. Francis de Sales, their home parish. Opening night's show was staged in a wooded area near the parking lot. Candles set in mason jars served as footlights. The company's co-founders wryly recalled that at showtime, not all cast members knew their lines. At their father's suggestion, they approached the show as a play within a play.
"We decided that we would be a bad theatre troupe struggling to put on 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,'" Erin said. "It was an instant success."
Since then, the Shadow Players have grown in numbers and amassed both professional equipment and dramatic expertise. They do three shows a year at St. Francis de Sales, their sponsor. The spring production usually has a religious theme. The summer show is their big "main stage" production and the winter show (most recently, "We Three Hons") is more geared to youth.
Along with the company, the Perkins kids have also matured. All three were active in the Bel Air Drama Company during their high school years, notably Conor, who played Seymour in "Little Shop of Horrors" and the Phantom in "Phantom of the Opera" with the troupe. Now Erin, 24, teaches first grade at Church Creek Elementary School. Conor, 22, just graduated from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University with a bachelor of fine arts degree with high honors in drama. He lives in New York City and works for the Atlantic Theater Company, a renowned off-Broadway group. Shannon, 20, is studying clinical psychology.
"As a way to give back for all the support the church has shown us, our proceeds from our main stage summer show are split and donated to the Journey in Faith (JIF) youth group," Erin Perkins said.