LEWISTON – “The Marble Orchard: Spirits of 1813” offers vignettes of various historical Lewiston figures in full period costume, with special free performances planned for Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Gazebo at Hennepin Park, Center and Fourth streets.
Performances are slated for 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
This special edition of the popular annual offering from the Lewiston Council on the Arts will focus on dramatic and true stories of the impact the War of 1812 had on the residents of Lewiston. The village was burned to the ground by the British and their Mohawk allies on Dec. 19, 1813.
Look for the character Sacarissa, the venerable Tuscarora chief, who went to Canada to plead for peace. He is still honored today by the Lewiston Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which named its lodge after him.
Lemuel Cooke, a surgeon in the Revolutionary War, also will be portrayed in the play as one of the first white settlers to build a cabin in Lewiston in the early 1800s. He will recall his harrowing escape from British and Mohawk invaders when his son, Bates, was forced to shoot a Mohawk chief at point-blank range to save the life of his brother, Lothrop.
Listen to members of the Gillette family tell of the terror and tragedy they suffered during the burning of Lewiston.
Look for tavern-owner Catherine Hustler, who became famous for inventing the “cocktail,” to tell her unique version of the War of 1812.
And, the audience will be introduced to the Millar family and the “Mudball Heroes.”
The cast includes a number of children and young adults, including Alex Gentile, who plays Miles Gillette; Geri Posa, who portrays Mary Millar; Brodie McPherson, who plays her brother, Alex Millar; and Madeline and Alison Catalano, who play orphans of the war.
Gentile, 16, will be a junior at Lewiston-Porter High School in September. Although he’s been acting for a while, this is his first performance with the Marble Orchard cast.
“I Googled 1812 stories and looked for stories similar to Miles’,” he said in describing his preparation for the role. “He was only 12 when he was scalped by the Mohawks … I start out with a basis and build from it.
“I’m really excited about this,” he added. “I think it’s awesome – especially this year with so much going on about the War of 1812 here. I’ve learned a lot about the place I live in – things I never knew. But I guess that’s the goal here, to tell people this is what happened in your backyard. It’s nice that I can help open people’s eyes to that. It’s a great feeling.”
The Marble Orchard, presented each year by the arts council, brings to life stories of those who are buried in the cemetery next to the First Presbyterian Church at 505 Cayuga St., the oldest public cemetery in Niagara County. It is the final resting place for some who lived as far back as the mid 1700s.
Timothy Henderson, the council’s program coordinator, writes a new play each year and has collaborated this year with Eva Nicklas, the council’s artistic director. The play will be directed by Kathleen Godwin, who has New York City theater experience.
“We have a professional director this year, and she’s really been holding our feet to the fire as we explore our characters,” said Henderson. “We’ve kicked it up a notch.
“We strive to make the play different each year, and I think people will really see a change in the program this year,” he added. “It’s touching, it’s heart-breaking, but there’s also quite a bit of humor. These are actual characters, and we take a lot of pride in being historically accurate because we take a lot of time to research it and get it right.
“I like to say this play is 200 years in the making,” he added.
Henderson, who has played Josiah Tryon in past productions, takes on the new role of Gad Pierce this year, while Nicklas continues her role as the flamboyant Sally Barton Tryon.
“But I think you’ll see a different side of Sally this year,” said Henderson.
This year’s production is sponsored by the Niagara River Greenway Commission and the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area.
The performances are free, and the audience is encouraged to bring lawn chairs.
And, coming in September and October, the cast returns with the Marble Orchard Ghost Walks, which travels through the village’s historic district and into the cemetery next to the First Presbyterian Church.
This eerie, yet light-hearted look back features stories and lessons on graveyard etiquette and tombstone symbols.