Tennessee Women for the Vote at the Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center

The Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center observed Women’s History Month through a dramatic exploration of the debate over suffrage. Reprising a play the company performed to honor the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, Director Catherine LaMoreaux adapted it for the Zoom and Facebook screens. The company both entertained theatrical fans and history buffs through Dr. B. Ayne Cantrell’s Tennessee Women for the Vote.  

            The playwright set her piece in the summer of 1920. Both pro and anti-suffrage leaders gathered to express their views. Dr. Cantrell included actual speeches delivered by the characters. As attendees advocated their positions, Tennessee legislators prepared to vote on whether to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. 35 states had already affirmed it. If one more approved, women’s suffrage would become enshrined in the Constitution. Would the Volunteer State become the needed 36th?

             Your correspondent watched the Facebook presentation of Tennessee Women for the Vote from Cinnaminson, NJ. A Quaker graveyard in town is the final resting place of suffragist and author of the Equal Rights Amendment Alice Paul.   

            The performers used authentic period costuming. In addition to large brim hats, the women wore the traditional white apparel that symbolized the women’s rights movement. Susan Roberts even adopted the same color for the opposing Heckler’s attire. She accentuated with a large American flag over her left lapel. The lone male in the cast, Barry Leonard, dressed like a 1920s lawyer. He wore a hat, tan jacket and black bow tie.

            The playwright included historical figures from the Tennessee suffrage movement as characters. The actors delivered performances that captured their conviction and, in some cases their misguided, passion.

            Anna Paone portrayed Catherine Talty Kenny the Chair of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage League. The character served the gathering’s emcee. Ms. Paone delivered her lines advocating the suffrage with authority. Through subtle nodding and pursed lips, she displayed attentiveness while showing her agreement with those supporting the cause.

            Shauni Ramai played the Chair of the National Women’s Party, Sue Shelton White; the only Tennessee woman arrested for her suffrage work. She explained her reaction to President Woodrow Wilson’s duplicity. While advancing national self-determination abroad, Wilson became reticent on allowing woman’s suffrage in the US. With the deceptively mellifluous voice of a Southern belle, she described a bonfire in front of the White House. Ms. Ramai discussed how she “burned the President’s hypocritical words.” Later, she placed an effigy of Wilson into the flames.

            The playwright took poetic license with Lide Smith Merriweather. The real Merriweather passed away seven years before the events in the play. Dr. Cantrell made a solid artistic choice including the legendary suffragist in the story. The Memphis News-Scimitar eulogized Merriweather as “the prime mover in the cause of suffrage in Tennessee.”

            Emily Niemeyer brought out this principled figure’s personality. She delivered an emphatic oration listing all those permitted to vote. Being included with those who could not demeaned females. Ms. Niemeyer decried how women must “protest legal classification with the idiot.”

            Dr. Cantrell’s play showed how the suffrage movement intersected with the advancement of civil rights. The rally included two African American leaders: the physician Matte E. Coleman (played by Tyechia Smith) and educator J. Frankie Pierce (Mimi B. Francis). They asked that in return for their contributions to the women’s suffrage movement, that women voters support improvements for their community.

             Other figures who spoke to affirm the suffrage included the President of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association and Vice President of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association, Ann Dallas Dudley (Justine D’Souza). Ms. D’Souza delivered the powerful line, “Give women the vote to clean up the ballot box.” Sheema Sahane gave another stirring oration as Martha Elizabeth Allen. The show’s director, Catherine LaMoreaux, portrayed one of the suffragist leaders in the crowd.

            Not all the characters who attended this gathering shared the suffragists’ views. Three participants opposed women’s right to vote.

            Barry Leonard portrayed Tennessee attorney John Jacob Vertrees. Mr. Leonard’s not-so-subtle head shaking and dour countenance showed his disagreement. He declared it with the tone and rationality of a skilled counselor. Mr. Leonard voiced the belief that “only those who bear arms” in the military should be allowed to vote. He added the chauvinistic tripe of the time that “women are too emotional” to choose candidates for office. He concluded by declaring that Tennessee women didn’t want to vote.

            A female speaker followed him. The President of the Tennessee State Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage and the Southern Women’s League for the Rejection of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment Josephine Anderson Pearson (Laura Paone) stated her opposition. Ms. Paone declared that she performed “God’s will” by opposing women’s suffrage. She could have stopped there. Then she said, “Women wanting the vote are modern Eves.” Once again, she made her point. But there was more. With a Southern accent, Ms. Paone implored people to reject the amendment on racial grounds. It would “destroy the Southern way of life” by “enfranchising Negros.” Interesting choice of words from someone who believed, “Suffrage will lower women by allowing them to take part in politics.”

            As the Heckler, Susan Roberts’ character advanced the antediluvian argument that voting would take women away from their families.

Tennessee Women included an authentic soundtrack. Mimi B. Francis sang a stirring a capella rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” with suffragist lyrics. Director LaMoreaux used recordings of songs from the era at the beginning and end of the program.  

            The director included professional ending credits. Ms. LaMoreaux included photos of both the actors and the real-life figures they played during the evening.

The virtual setting allowed Dr. Cantrell to witness the live broadcast. In addition to commending the performance, she gave viewers insights into the play. She told the audience that she wrote Tennessee Women for the Vote during the late 1980s for what was then Women’s History Week.

            Dragonfly presented the show through permission of the Tennessee Women’s Project. They also received a Grant from the from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.

             “Women’s votes are human rights,” became the show’s theme. Although the event in the story occurred over a century ago, the message regarding voting rights maintains its relevance today.

            Dragonfly will present a special program for its next Wednesday night reading. Incorporating both Women’s History Month and St. Patrick’s Day, they will perform Spreading the News by Lady Gregory. The show will be streamed live on Facebook and Zoom at 8:00 PM on March 17th.

Reaction to the George Floyd Murder

There is a distinction between a protester and a looter.

I join the protesters in their advocation for equal treatment of all before the law. It’s a national shame that in spite of the protections embodied in the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that our nation has failed to live up to the standard of everyone being granted the same rights before the law.

The NAACP is demanding:

  • A ban on the use of knee holds and choke holds as an acceptable practice for police officers.
  • The Use of Force Continuum for any police department in the country must ensure that there are at least six levels of steps, with clear rules on escalation.
  • Each state’s Open Records Act must ensure officer misconduct information and disciplinary histories are not shielded from the public. Recertification credentials may be denied for police officers if determined that their use of deadly force was unwarranted by federal guidelines.
  • Implementation of Citizen’s Review Boards in municipalities to hold police departments accountable and build public confidence.

The looters have no interest in any of this. They are cynically exploiting a national tragedy for their own selfish financial gain. Their conduct is an insult to the memory of George Floyd and to everyone who is appropriately protesting for positive change.

Looters are also providing reactionaries with an opportunity to denounce the protests as “anarchy,” “lawlessness” and “vandalism.” The looters are doing immense economic destruction to the communities they victimize. The damage from the perverted propaganda they are allowing for could become even more detrimental.

We as a society must do more to heal the wounds exposed by Mr. Floyd’s killing. The way that the police and the protesters have joined together in solidarity and marched in places as diverse as Haddonfield, NJ, Camden, NJ and Flint. MI is a cause for optimism.

In a recent speech, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, described the state of systemic racism in his country. I concur that we all must be cognizant of its existence. As a white man, I cannot understand firsthand what it is like to suffer from its effects. I can only listen to and sympathize with those who have. With a better understanding of this issue, all of us can work together to create not a better tomorrow, but a better today.

Our society has made significant progress in combating the cancer of race discrimination. As recent events have shown us, we have much farther to go than we should.


Noy Marom: The Critique Compendium Interview

Noy Marom by Rotem Barak

Noy Marom photo by Rotem Barak

Noy Marom is an Israeli actress based in NYC.

She was born and raised in Israel and moved to New York to pursue acting.

Noy is a graduate of The Stella Adler Studio of Acting, class of 2017.

Other training and workshops include: Grace Kiley Acting, The Barrow Group and The Nissan Nativ Acting Studio (Israel).

Theater credits include: Dian in Escape from Happiness, Sara in God of Vengeance, Eva in Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, A in the short play Kiss That Frog and The Letters Project.

Film credits include: What Would Nova Do?, Date Night, Shidduch, Crush and Once More Time with Feeling.

Noy is a founding member of the Virago Ensemble, an International all-female theater company, striving to empower women’s voices by sharing old and new works created by female-identifying writers.

Noy has also co-produced and acted in the short film A New York Moment, that was recently announced as a Semi-Finalist of the Variety International Film Festival.


Ms. Marom graciously agreed to an interview with The Critique Compendium. It took place via email from February 25, 2020 through February 29, 2020.


Critique Compendium:  What first interested you in the performing arts?

Noy Marom: For as long as I can remember, I loved to perform and from a very young age, my twin sister and I used to design costumes and perform in front of friends and family.

As I grew up, I discovered the magic and power of how actors tell stories through theater and cinema.  I remember watching actors on stage and in film, and just thinking how amazing it is that you can move people and make them feel different emotions by telling important and compelling stories. I remember being intrigued by it and saying to myself “Wow, this looks like the greatest job in the world. That’s what I want to do when I grow up”. Today, I still see it like that, but I also feel that as artists we also have great responsibility to try to make a difference through our art and I look for projects that focus on telling important stories that I feel  a special connection to and that I feel can make a difference and bring up issues that are important to me as an artist and as a human being.

Critique Compendium: What makes you want to play a role?

Noy Marom: I like to take on roles that are challenging and that can help me develop and refine my craft.

The work that I’m most passionate about is definitely female-driven projects.

I was fortunate enough to take part in many projects that centered around strong, interesting and complex leading female characters.

I always look for characters that are somewhat different from me, that takes me out of my comfort zone. Acting is also an opportunity for me to let loose and let out different sides of myself which are not usually out there. I feel like I always learn so much about myself in the process.

I was lucky enough to take part in many projects that shared the views that I believe in and care about. I only do work that I feel a personal connection to and that speaks to me as an artist. I think it’s important to use the stage we’re given as artists and raise awareness to different issues and to tell important stories that need to be told.

Noy Photo by Kenneth Shook

Noy Marom in God of Vengeance photo by Kenneth Shook

Critique Compendium: You’ve performed both on-stage and in film. Which do you prefer?

Noy Marom: I love both equally. The magic of the cinema and the power of the camera and also the excitement of performing in front of a live audience.

I feel very lucky to have had the training that allows me to do both.

I have been lucky enough to take part in wonderful productions with some of the most talented artists in the industry and I will keep focusing on being the best actor I can be, on camera and on stage.

Critique Compendium: Which is more challenging: performing on-stage or on film?

Noy Marom: There are different challenging aspects to both.

While on camera, you have to beware and conscious of many things, like your facial expressions and how you project your voice, since everything is way more noticeable on camera. There are also many challenging things you have to pay attention to that have to do with continuity and working on set with many staff members at any given time, which can be difficult when you’re working on very demanding scenes.

You also have to repeat the scene many times while filming and it can take the spontaneity out of the work and it can be pretty difficult to stay “fresh” after doing the same scene over and over again.

With theater, there are also many challenges.

Besides the obvious fact that it can be very stressful to act in front of a live audience (though it definitely gets better with time and the more you do it, the more you enjoy it and use this excitement in a positive way), you also have to be conscious of many things: again, the way you project your voice (and you always have to do a vocal warmup, which can be time consuming), the way you carry your body and your overall physicality and not to mention the amount of lines you have to memorize when your performing in a full length play.

I have to say that on some level, I do find theater to be a bit more challenging, since it is performed in front of a live audience and there are no second chances and you can’t just stop and go like you can while working on camera. On the other hand, I find it exciting for the exact same reasons.

Critique Compendium: You’re a founding member of the Virago Ensemble. Could you tell us about that organization?

Noy Marom: Virago Ensemble is an International all-female theater company, striving to empower women’s voices by sharing old and new works created by female-identifying writers.

I co-founded with a group of fellow actors from Stella Adler.

“Fresh” out of school, we wanted take charge of our careers and our artistic journey in NYC and we decided to produce our own work, while also continuing to work on other projects and going on auditions.

We started working together and found our voice as female international artists in NYC.

We’ve produced a number of very successful sold-out events, including a staged reading of the one-act play Last Summer at Bluefish Cove by Jane Chambers, and a theatrical movement piece of the short play Kiss that Frog by Serena Cates, both took place at the Artists Co-op in Manhattan and were directed by the accomplished actor and director Angelita Esperanza.

It was a wonderful experience and it taught me so much about working in an ensemble, which can be quite challenging, but I got to do it with amazing women who also happen to be amazing artists.

Critique Compendium: You both co-produced and acted in the short film A New York Moment. What’s it like to perform in a project you also co-produced?

Noy Marom: A New York Moment is a project that is very dear to my heart.

The short film tells the story of two good friends, Dana and Molly, both facing the struggles of pursuing their dreams in the Big Apple.

The story takes place in a park in NYC and it gives us a look into their journey as individuals and as friends, their hopes and dreams, love affairs, friendships and struggles.

We had an amazing crew and it was a wonderful experience.

I loved the experience of co-producing and also acting it, since I definitely allowed me more artistic freedom in the process, and it taught me so much about producing and managing a project from different aspects.

Critique Compendium: According to your resume, you’ve performed in 12 films. You played the lead in ten of them. How are you so successful at landing lead roles?

Noy Marom: I have to say that I’ve been very lucky in my journey as an actor. I really had many opportunities to explore many wonderful leading characters and take part in great productions with amazing artists.

I guess I just really try to do the work and to come prepared.

There is so much that is out of your hands when it comes to auditions, but you can control how prepared and professional you are in the process.

I do my best in the audition room and then I just try to breathe and let it go and move on to the next thing.

The secret is also to create as many opportunities for yourself to be seen and to reach new artists in the field that you can find a shared language with.

Noy Maram by Holly Thiel

Noy Marom in What Would Nova Do? photo by Holly Thiel

Critique Compendium: In the films Once More Time with Feeling and What Would Nova Do? you play characters who are either alone or isolated from the people around them. How do you prepare yourself to play roles this emotionally demanding?

Noy Marom: I really take my time with the character work. I focus on the character’s back story and I try to personalize it as much as possible. I also have this thing that I try to not interact so much with other people on set/ backstage before a very demanding and dramatic scene. I do my best to zoom-out and focus on the circumstances and be present and in the moment when I have to deliver a dramatic performance.

Critique Compendium: Once More Time with Feeling contains no dialog. What Would Nova Do? has very little. Did the lack of speaking concern you that you wouldn’t be able to tell the story in a way the audience could understand?

Noy Marom: I knew that it would be a challenging task, but I felt like I could make it work.

I’ve done many roles that involved a lot of dialogue in the past and I’m comfortable with that, so I saw it as a healthy challenge.

I guess that from an outside perspective, it can seem easier since you don’t have a lot of lines to memorize, but I actually think it’s more challenging, since you can only relay on your physicality and your facial expressions in order to tell the story. It was a challenge that I believe has made me a better actor.

Critique Compendium: Have you approached performing for Israeli and American audiences any differently?

Noy Marom: I approach every character and every performance with the highest level of dedication and professionalism.

The only difference that I can think of is that when I’m performing in front of an American audience, I’m focusing more on the vocal warm up and the accent work prior to the show, to make sure that I feel comfortable and that I won’t have any issues with the sounds and the speech, since I’m not originally from the US and it takes some work.

When I do that, I feel very comfortable with my speech and I’m ready to go.

Critique Compendium: You’ve received theatrical training in both Israel and the United States. Are the programs in both countries similar?

Noy Marom: I had the privilege of attending different institutes and classes in both countries.

From my experience, it’s true that every institute has its own philosophy and its own different approach towards acting, both in Israel and in the US, but the important main guiding lines regarding the technique, are actually usually pretty similar, even if they’re taught through a different vocabulary.

Critique Compendium: You served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Did your time as a soldier influence your acting career in any way?

Noy Marom: I think that serving in the IDF has taught me mainly that I am stronger than I gave myself credit for.

I’ve learned so much from my service and I think that I am better at dealing with things that can be challenging in general and also specifically in the industry, thanks to going through this experience.

Critique Compendium: What’s been your favorite role that you’ve performed so far? Why?

Noy Marom: I love so many of the roles that I’ve played and it’s very difficult for me to choose one, but if I had to choose, I have to mention a role that I’ve really enjoyed working on, Sara from God of Vengeance.

It was such a special role to take on. It’s such a strong and fierce character on one hand and such a vulnerable and delicate character on the other hand.

It was also the first time that I ever played the character of a mother and since I’m not yet a mother myself, it was quite a complicated personalization process in the beginning, but I really felt that I found “her” in the end and I loves every minute of working and breathing this character.

Noy Photo by Kenneth Shook 2

Noy Marom in God of Vengeance photo by Kenneth Shook

Critique Compendium: What’s the most difficult role you’ve played? What made it so challenging?

Noy Marom: There were many challenging roles that I can think of, but one especially comes to mind. When I was working on The Letters Project with the No Frills Theatre Collective, I had to take on a character that had to say a very deep and vulnerable monologue while dancing freely on stage. It created a very silly and amusing scene and the contrast between the heavy material and the light and amusing physical activity, while trying to stay focused and avoiding the expected laughs from the audience, was extremely challenging to do.

It was a wonderful process and I got to work with amazing actors and to learn so much from them.

Critique Compendium: What actors have influenced you? Why?

Noy Marom: I’ve always loved Natalie Portman. She’s also originally from Israel like me and I followed her career from a very young age.

I think she’s an amazing actress with an amazing career.

She takes on very versatile roles and she played many very memorable characters.

I also really admire the fact that she seems to have a really nice balance and separation between her private life and her life as a movie star.

She seems to really have it figured out: a successful career, a quiet family life and just an overall healthy approach to a balanced, positive life.

Critique Compendium: You list snowboarding and skiing as two of your hobbies. How do you balance the demands of performing with taking the time to enjoy those activities?

Noy Marom: It’s definitely challenging to find time to do those activities when you’re constantly busy auditioning and working on projects, but I always try to find time for the things that I love. As an actor, being in such a demanding field, it’s easy to lose balance at times and I find it very important to make time to enjoy the things you love in order to stay balanced and to renew your energy.

Critique Compendium: How would you like audiences to remember you?

Noy Marom: As an actress who is dedicated to her craft and isn’t afraid of taking chances and being vulnerable on stage.

It’s extremely important for me to portray characters that the audience can identify with and I want the audience to experience the highest- level of authentic performance.

I see it as an absolute privilege to share my work with the audience, to be able to create art and to reach people and also let them into my artistic world.

Critique Compendium: What advice would you give to young people interested in participating in the performing arts?

Noy Marom: It takes time to find your place in the industry and I think the best advice that I can give young people that are just starting their journey, is to also create their own work.

Find a story you’d like to tell and that you’re passionate about and tell it. Go out there and audition and try to find work and projects that speak to you and that you can contribute to, but also find your artistic voice and create your own work and take charge of your path and your career.

Also, I would advise them to be patient and to believe in what they’re doing. It’s a challenging path but it’s worth it because at the end of the day you’re pursuing the thing you love best.

Critique Compendium: Where can people see your work?

Noy Marom: I make sure to post and update about my work and to inform regarding performance and film release dates.

People can see and learn about my work on my website: noymarom.com.

Critique Compendium: What’s next for Noy Marom?

Noy Marom: I have many exciting projects coming up in the coming months.

I have a few projects with IAP- The Israeli Artists Project, a New York based organization that supports Israeli art and Israeli artists in the city.

We’ll be working on a number of productions together, including wonderful bilingual shows for children (that includes, among others, a production of the show Kef in Israel, that I’ve also acted in in the past) and a production of the renowned Israeli play called Best Friends.

I’ll also be working on an exciting, original one- woman show called Memories of Fire, that will be directed by a wonderful NYC based director and devised theater maker.

Also, I’ll be working on a production of the renowned Israeli play Hefetz, directed by an accomplished Israeli director also based in NYC.

I can’t share more information at the moment, but I’m very excited about what’s to come and will be able to share more details soon.

The King’s Highway by Jason Sherman at The Historical Society of Moorestown

The latest installment of the Historical Society of Moorestown’s History Speaks lecture series included a format change. In lieu of a lecturer, this one featured a film. The Society both educated and entertained audience members with its screening of The King’s Highway; a documentary film written, directed and narrated by Jason Sherman.

Mr. Sherman’s website describes him as an entrepreneur, a film maker, an author and journalist. In spite of this busy schedule, Mr. Sherman visited the Historical Society of Moorestown on January 8th.  After the audience watched his documentary regarding one of “the most important roads in American History,” he participated in a talk back.

1650 King Charles planned development of a road that extended from Boston to Charleston. The actual King’s Highway proved an ambitious endeavor. So did the film documenting its history. Mr. Sherman explained that he performed 90 per cent of the work himself. He self-funded the project through its first six months.

The documentary included beautiful panoramic views of the Delaware Valley. The film maker added interviews with local historians and political leaders. They provided insights and valuable information for local history buffs.

The King’s Highway included three themes. The history of the area the road traversed took the forefront. People have resided in the Philadelphia area for over six thousand years. The film described the cultures of indigenous people who served as its first inhabitants. The film also showed how European settlers lived. Both groups shared a common interest in the King’s Highway.

The film then showed how Northeast Philadelphia played as crucial a role to the development of the American republic as events in Center City Philadelphia did. The community’s inns and taverns entertained a host of important figures from American history. They included George Washington, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. The documentary reported an anecdote about the “Frankfort Advice.” John Adams claimed that these ideas discussed at Frankfort’s Jolly Post Inn were later included in the Declaration of Independence.

The final third of The King’s Highway explored the issue of building preservation. When Mr. Sherman made the film in 2016, Philadelphia allocated $500,000 to address this issue. Only two per cent of the city’s historic buildings were designated for preservation. In the film’s most dramatic scene, the director included footage of a nineteenth century home getting demolished by a wrecking crew. The image made one member of the audience gasp.

Mr. Sherman explained that his film has stimulated an interest in historical awareness. Since its release, he has conducted walking tours of Northeast Philadelphia, he’s posted his own historical markers and he’s hosted reenactments. The City of Philadelphia has declared August 20th “King’s Highway Day.” The documentary has also sparked a movement for historical preservation.

The King’s Highway received the Best Feature Documentary Award at the 2016 First Glance Film festival. It is available for viewing on Amazon Prime. Those interested in learning more can visit the website: kingshighwayfilm.com.

The Doll: A Magical Christmas at the Village Playbox

What do you do when a Broadway producer tells you your show needs “a hook”? Local playwright Rob Kristie received this advice in response to his touching tale The Doll. The show already contained compelling characters and a strong soundtrack. Just what kind of “hook” did it lack? To incorporate the producer’s suggestion, Mr. Kristie transformed the piece into a “magical” Christmas show.

Appropriately, the Village Playbox launched the Holiday Season on Black Friday. This November 29th the company presented Mr. Kristie’s The Doll: A Magical Christmas. Your correspondent attended this opening night performance.

Samantha Flannery (played by Amanda Rose Kipila) felt alone and isolated due to her blindness. Samantha’s mother, Ann (played by Mary Simrin) provided her only companionship. After the grand opening of his new store, also called Grand Opening!, Adam Barter (Doug Cohen) presented Samantha with a doll that she named Flopsy (Gracie Sokoloff). The latter came to life and encouraged Samantha to experience life. Adam found himself interested in Ann, a widow.

Mr. Kristie and John Blackwell co-directed this outstanding Christmas spectacle. The directors employed a unique means of drawing the spectators into the show at the beginning. Cast members threw “snowballs” into the audience. Those fortunate enough to catch one received a complimentary Christmas ornament. Without giving away spoilers, they crafted an even more spectacular finale.

Vocal Director Mark Kozachyn worked with a host of diverse styles presented by Mr. Kristie’s songwriting. The cast provided him with a lot of talent to guide.

The Neighborhood Children performed as a wonderful acapella chorus on “Children’s Carol.” Doug Cohen and Mary Simrin sang a bossa nova tinged duet on “Completed Day.” Ms. Simrin performed an acapella track on “Any Completed Day.” Mr. Cohen sang a passionate reflection on the true meaning of the Holiday with “Just Like Christmas.”

Because of the range of genres the soundtrack contains, The Doll will appeal to a wide variety of musical tastes. Mary Simrin executed the complexities of “Don’t Take My Time” brilliantly. This majestic song featured a melody in 12/8 time with a bass line that would please both Bootsy Collins and George Clinton. The “2-4” duet performed by Ms. Kipila and Ms. Sokoloff included flamenco style muted guitar strumming a la Jimi Hendrix performed on a 12- string acoustic.  Ms. Sokoloff sang the synthesizer driven “If You Can Imagine.” The performer’s vocals captured the song’s 1980s vibe. Ms. Kipila navigated the disco portions of “Why Can’t I” like an authentic 70s diva.

Perhaps for the first time in the history of musical theatre, a songwriter was influenced by the music of the Drifters. This reviewer heard references to the bass line for “Under the Boardwalk” in “I Really Don’t Care” and “Completed Day.”

Amanda Rose Kipila played an outstanding Samantha. Ms. Kipila possesses a beautiful voice. It complimented Mr. Kristie’s lyrics and melodies on tracks such as “I Really Don’t Care” and “I Don’t Know.” The performer also showed exceptional acting prowess. Ms. Kipila captured Samantha feelings towards a range of experiences such as her loneliness and her surprise upon discovering that Flopsy talked. Ms. Kipila made her character’s change appear realistic.

Gracie Sokoloff applied a lot of energy to her performance as Flopsy. She made the character very likable. Ms. Sololoff “broke the fourth wall” to introduce Scene 3 of Act 2. The performer engaged the audience with great charm, wit and enthusiasm. She maintained that engaging persona throughout the entire show.

Ms. Kipila and Ms. Sololoff complimented one another very well. The former played the character timid about experiencing life. The latter performed as an upbeat free spirit with a zeal for life. The two enacted the conflict very credibly.

Stevie Rose Gerhart coordinated outstanding choreography. The opening number featured the neighborhood children singing while performing an intricate dance routine on “Christmas Time.” Ms. Sokoloff’s effort at showing Ms. Kipila how to dance on “I’ll Lead the Way” became one of the show’s most enjoyable scenes.

Production Teams at the Village Playbox optimize the space allotted to them. When performing at the First Presbyterian Church of Haddon Heights, they transformed the stage into the world of Dr. Seuss for Seussical. The quick set-changes they executed during the intermissions for Noises Off! will go down in the annals of South Jersey theatrical lore. They proved they could show the same creativity when performing at the Fellowship Methodist Church a few blocks from that venue.

The set created fantastic ambiance. Set designers Paul Becker and Gary Kochey (and the cast members who helped construct it) converted a small stage into the front of the Flannery home, both the inside and outside of Grand Opening!, the exterior of candy store South Street Sweets, a hospital room and a bedroom. They also allowed for Ms. Kipila and Ms. Sokoloff to perform a scene in silhouette from behind a shade.

The sparse use of Christmas lights on the stage worked very well. They allowed the audience to understand that the story occurred during the Holiday Season. They weren’t so prominent that they distracted the audience from the action on stage. The intermittent lighting of the Christmas tree to house right enhanced the mood perfectly. Compliments to Jack Bozzuffi for his work on the sound and lights and Gary Kochey as the light operator.

Other members of the cast included: Mia Grace, Karen Smith, Lisa Aliquo, Chrissy Luther, Gregory Furman, Colin Becker, Michael Mellor, Emily Joyce Kipila, Sophia Izabella Vaughn and Lily Allen.

The Production Crew comprised of: Producer Steve Allen, Costumer, Props and spot light operator Leslie Romanuski, Denise Lallier and Rob Kristie handled props, Stage Manager Paul Becker, and Stage Crew Angela Becker.

The Doll: A Magical Christmas will hook audiences. This performance can be summarized in one word: smileicious. The show runs through December 8th at the Village Playbox.


Lecture Review – “For the Work of a Day We Want Something to Say: Social Change and Suffrage” by Lara Vapnek, PhD

2019 marks the centennial of American women’s achievement of a right that so many take for granted: the right to vote. To commemorate this milestone in human history, the Alice Paul Institute is presenting a series of lectures as part of the “Suffrage Speak: Honoring the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Right to Vote” program. This Women’s History Month Dr. Lara Vapnek delivered a talk entitled “For the Work of a Day We Want Something to Say: Social Change and Suffrage.” The event occurred at Paulsboro in Mount Laurel, NJ on March 9th.

According to her biography on amazon.com: Dr. Vapnek teaches history at St. John’s University in Queens, NY. She earned her PhD at Columbia. She specializes in the history of gender and labor in the nineteenth and twentieth century United States. The professor based the speech on her 2009 book Breadwinnners: Working Women and Economic Independence 1865 – 1920.

Dr. Vapnek structured her comments along three themes. The working women during the time period considered themselves “breadwinners.” They worked out of necessity to financially support either their families or themselves. These women didn’t feel that men either represented or protected them. Their inability to vote inhibited them from achieving full political equality with men. Lacking that parity affected their ability to achieve their goals within the labor movement.

Stereotypes inhibited the efforts of early reformers. Society viewed women’s proper role as that of homemaker. The “male breadwinner ideal” mythos permeated the eras’s thinking. So did the “middle class ideal” of women belonging at home. Through a series of statistics Dr. Vapnek showed this chauvinistic belief as just that: a fantasy. In 1870, 15% of women participated in the work force. By 1920 that percentage jumped to 25%. In urban areas the figure reached one third.

The professor included some brief biographies of early leaders within the women’s rights movement. She described the contributions of individuals such as Jennie Collins, Leonora O’Reilly and Leonora Barry among others. As many of these figures gave excellent speeches, Dr. Vapnek added memorable quotations to her talk. Some of the best included an 1866 line from Frances Harper: “You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs.” While testifying before the US Congress in 1912, Leonora O’Reilly stated, “We women have dreamed of democracy but we have never enjoyed it.” The most prescient also came from Ms. O’Reilly. In 1899 she observed:

Women, whether you wish it or not, your first step must be to gain equal political rights with men. The next step after that must be equal pay for equal work.

A shorter work day was another goal for which these reformers fought. During the nineteenth century people typically worked 12 to 14 hour days. Jennie Collins pushed for a “reduced” 10–hour day. Years later Leonora Barry advocated an 8-hour one.

These advocates proved adept at organizing. They established groups such as the Women’s Trade Union League (in 1903) and the Wage Earners Suffrage League (in 1911). During the fall of 1909, the “Uprising of the 20,000” occurred. These women’s garment workers initiated a walk out in protest of conditions within the industry. The work stoppage lasted until February of 1910. The media at the time portrayed it as the “girls strike.” In a crass attempt to send a message, the authorities tried many of those arrested in night court along with prostitutes. Some 700 received sentences of hard labor.

Labor conditions from the Reconstruction through the First World War were harsh. People worked extended hours in cramped and dangerous conditions. Events like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 made the modern expression “workplace safety” seem like an oxymoron. The plight of the “breadwinners” became more egregious than taxation without representation.

The efforts of these labor reformers facilitated the movement for women’s suffrage. They proved that a person couldn’t have economic rights without corresponding political ones. The power to elect those who make the laws provides a strong incentive for politicians to govern prudently.


Coach Andy Reid: Theatre Critic

I never knew Coach Andy Reid took such an interest in theatre. Coach was generous enough to share his thoughts on an American classic, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Critique Compendium: Coach, what did you think of Tennessee Williams’ approach to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?

Coach Reid: He made a heck of a play there.

Critique Compendium: What did you think of the writing?

Coach Reid: That was a hot read.

Critique Compendium: How would you compare seeing the play performed live to watching the movie version?

Coach Reid: I gotta look at the film on Monday.

Critique Compendium: So you haven’t seen the movie?

Coach Reid: I’m not thinking about that right now. I’ve got to get ready for next week.

Critique Compendium: Coach, we had no idea you took such an interest in theatre. It’s not something I’ve heard you discuss.

Coach Reid: I gotta do a better job there.



Lecture Review – “Paulsdale Metal Detecting Finds” by Michael F. Burns, PLS

This February 9th I received an introduction to a new method of historical detection. Michael F. Burns, Professional Land Surveyor described the nuances of using a metal detector to unearth clues about the past. The event took place at Paulsdale in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.

Mr. Burns possesses a unique expertise on both the subject of metal detecting and local history. A surveyor by trade, he is also a member of the South Jersey Metal Detecting Club, the Mount Laurel Historical Society, the Federation of Metal Detectors and Archaeology Club. His metal detecting finds include items such as coins, relics, heirlooms and artifacts. Mr. Burns reported on his findings at the Paulsdale property.

After watching the British television show detectorists, he felt inspired to take up the hobby himself. It seemed a natural extension of land surveying.

The speaker opened his remarks by providing a technical synopsis of the field of metal detecting. Fortunately for your correspondent he did so in language lay people could understand.

He began by introducing the audience to his preferred tool, White’s Spectra V3i. Their machine contains both an audio and a visual component. A polar plot displays vectors that plot the different frequencies the device detects. He, however, prefers to interpret the sounds that represent the different signal strengths. Mr. Burns explained that a good detectorist understands how to read them.

Detecting consists of the following steps: sweeping, pin pointing with the detector, digging, pin pointing with a pin pointer, recovering the target, re-checking the hole with the detector and then filling in the hole.

The latter step is crucial. Mr. Burns along with most detectorists practices “responsible metal detecting.” The trade even has a Metal Detecting Code of Ethics. One component entails getting permission from the property owner before detecting. Practitioners perform their craft with the dual goals of both “saving history and protecting the hobby.”

Paulsdale is a six acre property located on Hooton Road in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. In 1991 the Department of the Interior designated it a National Historic Landmark. It’s most famous as the home of legendary suffragist and co-author of the Equal Rights Amendment, Alice Paul. From 1800 until the late 1950s the property operated as a functioning farm.

Mr. Burns displayed both photos and samples of some items he located on the Paulsdale grounds. He presented an interesting array of objects. The property contained some unusual finds. The speaker located part of a toy gun and a lead toy cowboy from the 1950s. He also found a brass brooch of unknown date, an ignition coil from a Model T Ford dating from the 1920s and a silver plated spoon manufactured in Fairfield, England in 1915.

The most common items he located were old coins. He unearthed a 1922 Order of Railway Conductors convention coin, one from 1938 commemorating the 50th anniversary of Collingswood, New Jersey among some regular currency.

There’s an adage among detectorists that: “It’s not what you find, it’s what you find out.” Mr. Burns emphasized that research is the most important part of metal detecting: both in determining where to search and in identifying the items discovered. With his passion for his work, local history buffs will be hearing about Mr. Burns’ discoveries for years to come.

Dr. Richard Connors – The Road to the Armistice 1918

This November we commemorated the centennial of the Great War’s conclusion. Fittingly, in October, historian Richard Connors published his latest volume on the First World War. With The Road to Armistice, he explored the conflict’s final months from the battlefields to the negotiating table to the hustings. As in his 2017 work, New Jersey and the Great War, he included sections that described the war’s impact on the Garden State. A witty and engaging read resulted.

Dr. Connors employed several writing techniques that made the book very enjoyable; his vernacular style chief among them. Academic historians have a bad habit of overusing fancy words. Some like to include epistemology and ontology with the same frequency that most people use and and the. Dr. Connors avoided this error. He expressed his ideas in lucid language that made them easy to understand.

In his analysis of the “Black Day” of the German Army, the professor provided a clear yet detailed description of events. He did so in a way that would’ve impressed Sir John Keegan.

Instead of the traditional days-long artillery barrage, which alerts the enemy to the location and immanence of an attack, the Allies rely on a last-minute rolling barrage. This is an approach where the artillery fires ahead of the infantry at a prescribed distance, and continues this pattern as the soldiers advance. At 4:20 a.m. on August 8 the guns roar for three minutes, aiming two hundred yards in front of the assaulting tanks, infantry, and cavalry. This formula is repeated until the shells reach a maximum depth of 4,500 yards. The artillery teams then move forward. But plans don’t survive for long. The gods of war take over. Little if any resistance by some German units, wholesale surrender by those surrounded, stiff resistance by other units, difficulty communicating in any direction amid the ear-shattering din and blinding smoke of battle, orderly advances by some troops, pell-mell rushes by others, tank breakdowns, halts to avoid being caught in the rolling barrage or to outflank bullet-spewing machine guns, the roar of airplanes diving down to strafe the enemy, the shrieks of the dying. The result is chaos and confusion accompanied by incomprehensible death and destruction. Chaos and confusion might not be the best choice of words; berserk bedlam might be better. (Loc 118)

As readers could determine from the above passage, Dr. Connors wrote in the present tense. By doing so, he gave the story an immediacy one doesn’t typically encounter in works of history.

The Road to the Armistice 1918 contained excellent use of humor. That’s quite an achievement with such sullen subject matter. In the chapter describing the life of a platoon leader in the 29th Division he observed:

Runners are used as contact agents; paths for them have to be found and maintained. Runners are not always reliable. Sometimes they will run to the rear and just keep on running. (Location 697)

When describing the training the 78th Division experienced in Europe, he noted an unanticipated hardship the war forced American troops to endure.

They are also exposed to the “delights” of British rations, which feature tea, biscuts, jam, and cheese. Not very popular with the doughboys raised on meat and potatoes. (Location 723)

Even with the nation at war, newspapers didn’t limit their coverage to carnage. On August 3, 2018, papers reported the following stories.

New Jersey news includes details of a “slacker roundup”, involving raids of theatres, hotels and saloons, sending some 300 men to the local armory for questioning. On the lighter side, Belmar arrests twenty-three “drippers,” persons walking on the boardwalk with wet bathing suits and inadequate covering. The fine: $5. (Location 107)

The author included interesting information regarding wartime New Jersey. He wrote that in October:

…a Presidential order banning German aliens from a number of coastal towns in Monmouth and northern Ocean counties. The order covers communities east of the Jersey shore railroad tracks, from Matawan south to Point Pleasant. It was triggered by fears that German submarines will bring in spies and saboteurs, bent on destroying war industries and interfering with shipping. (Unknown to the general public, a U-boat shelled the Coast Guard station at Sandy Hook during August.) (Loc 264)

I only had one criticism of the book. While I liked the professor’s conversational writing style, I did read a number of clichés. As Dr. Connors is an excellent writer, I thought he could have used more creative expressions than “money to burn” (Loc 409), “spiraling downhill” (Loc 420) and “to put it mildly.” (Loc 466)

Dr. Connors commemorated the hundredth anniversary of the war’s conclusion by publishing The Road to the Armistice 1918. I reflected upon the centennial by reading it. I finished just before Veteran’s Day.


Lecture Review – Christopher Andrew Maier: “Just for the Record: The Life of Eldridge Reeves Johnson”

What better way to commemorate the anniversary of someone’s death than through a celebration of that person’s life? As part of the “History Speaks” series sponsored by the Historical Society of Moorestown, Mr. Maier did just that. He delivered a first person lecture on one of the town’s most famous residents, Eldridge Reeves Johnson. The event occurred at the Moorestown Library on November 14th: the 73rd anniversary of the entertainment industry pioneer’s passing.

Perhaps inspired by Mr. Johnson’s life, the Historical Society of Moorestown pioneered a trend of its own. Several months ago I attended a lecture they sponsored that included an “opening act.” This came about due to the lateness of the featured speaker. At this event the speaker fulfilled these dual roles himself. Mr. Maier began the evening by displaying some stellar musicianship on the grand piano.

Then the speaker transitioned from tickling the ivories to massaging the audience’s intellectual curiosity. Mr. Maier segued into his lecture on the life of the Victor Talking Machine Company’s founder, Eldridge Reeves Johnson.

The speaker’s passion for his subject came through in his remarks. He chose to deliver them in the first person; in essence, becoming his subject. Mr. Maier described the development of the gramophone, “as important as the Guttenberg Press.” This innovation led to the company employing such cultural luminaries as Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. It even hired an unknown artist named Andy Warhol to design their artwork.

It seems odd that someone who founded such a remarkable organization had such inauspicious beginnings. A high school instructor told Johnson to “learn a trade” as he wasn’t “college material.” That’s the polite description of the conversation. Mr. Maier even said this person referred to Mr. Johnson as “dumb.” Mr. Johnson opted to become a machinist. Circumstances showed he made a good choice. The skills he developed served him well upon meeting his future business partners Emile Berliner and Alfred Clark.

Johnson’s career proved the business adage about the importance of surrounding one’s self with “good people.” While working with Alexander Graham Bell, Mr. Berliner developed a microphone used on the first telephone. Mr. Johnson’s future rival, Thomas Edison, employed Mr. Clark. The latter invented a governor that regulated a gramophone’s speed. The one he produced served a key function in Victor’s record player.

When the Victor Talking Machine Company opened for business in 1901, it earned $500 in sales. When adjusted for inflation that equates to approximately $15K in 2017 currency. Just when that instructor who called Johnson “dumb” may have felt vindicated, both the company’s popularity and its revenue grew exponentially. Just five years after starting up, the organization generated $12 million in sales. In 2017 figures, that would come to over $332 million. (Source: westegg.com inflation calculator.)

Mr. Maier described the gramophone’s technical details. He even provided an authentic one as a visual aide. The device lacked a volume control. Shoving something into the horn served as the only means of deadening the sound. The lecturer demonstrated by literally “putting a sock in it.”

In 1906, the company developed a more practical way to address the issue. During that year, the Victor Talking Machine Company produced the Victrola. The speaker’s position beneath the turntable helped to lower the volume.

A Victrola could best be described as a multi-purpose cabinet. The lower portion contained a section where consumers could store their records. It also included a pull-out shelf where consumers could place the records they wanted to play.

Unlike many business barons, such as Mr. Edison, Eldridge Johnson possessed a humble disposition. Decades before management guru Jim Collins advocated this trait, Mr. Johnson recognized that it made good business sense. He understood that Victor’s performers were the company’s real stars. As Mr. Maier speculated that he said: “All is vanity. That’s why no one knows my name.”

In addition to his revolutionary contributions to the entertainment industry, Mr. Johnson contributed his substantial means to philanthropic causes. As Moorestown residents know, he generously provided funds for the Community House. Mr. Maier added that Johnson tore down one of his own mansions to provide a site for the Merion Tribute House (formerly the Merion War Tribute House) located in Merion Station, Pennsylvania. He intended the building as a memorial for local residents who served in the armed forces during the First World War.

After covering the serious side of Mr. Johnson’s life, Mr. Maier added wit to his presentation. He shared a few YouTube videos he produced. One showed his discovery of where Mr. Johnson’s original machine shop stood. (https://youtu.be/cfR9QlL1oUg) In the most amusing segment, the speaker swapped his piano for a beat box. He kicked it old school with his tribute to Victor’s mascot in the form of “Nipper’s Yap Rap.” (https://youtu.be/IFUK4TULQYU)

It seemed fitting that Mr. Johnson’s company rivaled Mr. Edison’s. As Mr. Maier explained, “Edison was an inventor. Johnson was an artist.” With the speaker’s proficiency at music, performance art and knowledge of the gramophone it’s understandable why he developed such an interest in the latter. After attending his lecture, one can also understand why his audiences experience that same enthusiasm.