A tribute to mom

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GUILFORD — Write what you know. That advice was well taken by playwright Jean Stewart McLean and mother of Don McLean, co-founder of Guilford Center Stage. Written in the late 1940s, four one-act plays by Jean Stewart McLean reflect post World War II life. Directed by William Stearns, they will premiere in Guilford, Friday through Sunday, upstairs in the Broad Brook Grange. The production concludes Guilford Center Stage's third season,

A drama, "To Their Appointed End," and a comedy, "Where the Saints Have Trod," frame the intermission that draw from her childhood growing up during the '20s in a church rectory in Rahway, N.J. With an Episcopalian minister for a father, as her mom hosted teas and rummage sales, she observed church politics, inner turmoil and conflicting personalities. "To Their Appointed End," takes on the hierarchy in a small-town church that causes angst for the wife of an aging and ill, but well-liked, reverend by its blue-collar congregation, pitted against a vestry committee of well-to-do seeking more youthful leadership. "Where the Saints Have Trod," is also set in a church but is written about the other end of a minister's life as a young minister and his family replaces a well-loved minister, facing resistance to change from a powerful lady in the church who is all about appearances.

Opening the performances with a drama, "The Vine," a tag-along boarder, son of the previous owners now deceased, is full of residual fears from his father's abuse. He continues to hang onto an emotional attachment to a vine growing outside the window that the new young owners want to chop. As the young couple turns frustration into compassion, the boarder finds comfort with them. The final play provides more comic relief and is a shift in gears with "Happy Hollidays," based on the radio show during the days before TV was predominant, "Breakfast with Dorothy and Dick" airing on WOR-AM in New York City. It featured Dorthy Kigallen, a woman journalist famous for her gossip columns and serious journalism, and Richard Kollmar, a Broadway producer. In "Happy Hollidays" Rita and Robert Holliday banter glib remarks and one-liners on and off the air, unashamedly riddled with advertisements for cereal and soap.

Jean Stewart McLean also wrote poetry and short stories. but Don McLean remembers the plays. "I've known these plays my whole life, we never talked about them as I wish I had, I always accepted them as part of the house and until now, never thought much about how they would be performed," he said.

Jean Stewart McLean always loved literature. She was of the first generation of women when going to college was normal and new. She majored in English at what was then called the New Jersey College for Women that eventually became a division of Rutgers, and is now Rutgers Douglas College, graduating in 1939. She landed a job in New York City as an executive secretary to the executive director of The Book of the Month Club, observing authors and involved in the publishing world. When she married Wallace McLean, a Princeton professor, she, just as many women did post-war, stayed home to raise children while writing on the side, hoping to get published. She never saw any of her work get published. As Don McLean explained, it was hard to break into the markets with a lot of competition, and if a manuscript didn't land on the right person's desk, catching his or her attention, it didn't happen.

To honor her memory in 2013, 50 years after her death, Don McLean took on the task of typing what she authored. "Sparks, The Collected Writing of Jean Stewart McLean" published by the Midnight Press of Guilford is a compilation of short stories, poetry and the four plays. Taking an excerpt from her poem "The Plan," he entitled the book Sparks because, as he said, he liked the idea that life is made of sparks, and the creative process being the fanning of sparks into a fire.

After typing the book he became very familiar with the plays, and now with an opportunity through Guilford Center Stage, it led him to an idea. He approached co-founder Laura Lawson Tucker about producing the plays and she was enthusiastic, thought they were well written and worth putting on stage.

Don McLean said, "It's been fun the last month having actors act them out."

The cast includes a lot of veteran actors including Nan Mann and Marvin Shedd and Arthur Pettee, as well as some new to the stage including 4-year-old Genevieve Redmond. Also in the cast is Nancy Detra, Ian Hefele, Jenny Holan, Julie Holland, Joel Kaemmerlen, Glenn Letourneau, Todd W. Mandell, Evelyn McLean, Cris Parker-Jennings, Maryann Parrott, Jen Rainville, Susan Shedd, William Stearns, and Bob Tucker.

Don McLean said the variety in age is nice and there are some great people. He said, "Ulitmately, it's amazing to do these plays, I've know these plays for 60 years, it is touching." It will be a family affair as his sister is coming from California to see the plays.

The one-acts will be given in three performances, with shows on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m., upstairs at Broad Brook Grange, 3940 Guilford Center Road, just under 4 miles west of the Guilford Country Store.

General admission tickets are $10, available in advance at: http://bpt.me/2792780 or 1-800-838-3006, or at the door.

And, as one of the actors said, " I like working with you guys, and I like honoring your mom."

Cicely M. Eastman may be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 261


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