Theatrical History Recalls Stages Of Annapolis Rising

November 04, 1990|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

For openers, a disagreement.

What is Annapolis, anyway? As the spotlights come up at the Francis Scott Key Auditorium of St. John's College, voice after voice -- six voices in all -- chime in with different views.

A military town. No, a fishing town. No, a political town, a historic town. A college town. A capital city graced with small-town gentility. A town of racial division.

It depends on who's talking. And in "The Annapolis I Remember," many people are talking. The six performers act as mediums through whom we hear Annapolitans in their own words recall life in Annapolis from World War I through the civil rights movement. The oral history/slide presentation will be offered 3 p.m. today and Sunday, Nov. 25; and 8 p.m. Nov. 13 and 20.

Admission is free.

The project is the result of 18 months of work, about 70 interviews and more than 100 hours of tape. It's the work of three women: Sharie Valerio, Beth Whaley and Mame Warren. Valerio, who directs the show, said the idea for the project rose from a sense of loss. Her father, Selden R. Lacey, died four years ago. Valerio regretted not having recorded his recollections of Annapolis. The show is dedicated to his memory.

"He was a good story-teller and a native Annapolitan," said Valerio. "Of all the things, I missed the voice."

The show opens with slides of the old town flashed on a screen next to the stage: oyster boats, a blacksmith, a paddle wheeler on the Severn.

From there, the voices carry the show. The voices are the show. Voices of immigrants and patricians, watermen, shopkeepers, church-goers. The three women spent hours in the homes of Annapolis people, switching on the tape recorder, sitting back.

"That was wonderful," said Valerio. "You say 'Tell me something about this,' and they'd talk for two hours. We all enjoyed that so much more than we thought."

Native Annapolitans will find this show strikes chord after chord. The voices recall streets of oyster shells, the smell of wash day on town streets, and a time when the Eastport shoreline was "a carpet of grass" by pristine waters.

The voices remember Main Street as a place where shops reflected the personalities of their owners -- Maggio's grocery, Musterman's hat store, Parson's dry goods. They recall the Spanish influenza that took 151 lives in October 1918 and the fire that destroyed the Colonial Theater.

Some voices recall ethnic harmony -- Jewish tailors working side-by-side with Greek restaurateurs, Italian grocers and German bakers. Another voice recalls a sign at Beverly Beach: "No colored, no Jews, no Mediterraneans, no dogs."

The voices of black Annapolitans remember segregation and life on West Street.

"We had our own school teachers," says the voice of a black Annapolitan, performed by Vivian Gist. "They acted as models for us. All the children would look and say 'I want to be just like her.' " Valerio is not touting the project as the last word on Annapolis oral history. Quite the contrary. She offers it as a good start, given the time limitations allowed by the grants that financed the project.

"I hope it's a beginning for Annapolis," Valerio said Thursday evening after the cast finished a dress rehearsal. "I hope it encourages people to start collecting their family histories. We don't mean to say these are all the stories of Annapolis. These are all we could collect."

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