Many community residents equate the Emelin Theatre with Film Club, music or children’s productions and associate high-powered political debates with television. Norman Corwin’s play “The Rivalry,” which will kick-off the Emelin’s return to drama with three shows November 13-14, dispels both notions.
The play comes to Mamaroneck after critically acclaimed runs in New York at the Irish Repertory Theatre and in Boston. The subject matter is the Lincoln-Douglas debates from 150 years ago, which are not only credited with changing our nation’s history, but also with the inception of media coverage for political debate.
The story of how “The Rivalry” came to Mamaroneck is a tale unto itself. Although she had never imagined producing a play, local resident Nancy Phillips saw the play last October in Chester, Massachusetts with her husband, Tom Dunne. They were long-time friends of Emmy-winning producer Vincent Dowling (who discovered Tom Hanks and gave him his first professional work), and although they generally saw Mr. Dowling’s productions, they had never considered becoming more than audience members.
When Ms. Phillips saw “The Rivalry,” though, she was overwhelmed by the story and immediately began to wonder, “How can we bring this to our town?”
Ms. Phillips had a career in magazine publishing, not anything related to theatre. Although she hadn’t thought about how to approach the Emelin, she thought it would be a perfect venue for the production.
Determined to make the play available to local residents, Ms. Phillips contacted Emelin board member Mariana Boneo, who she knew from volunteer work in the community. Soon Ms. Boneo had introduced her to the Emelin’s new executive director, Lisa Reilly. By December, a meeting between Ms. Reilly, Mr. Dowling and Ms. Phillips was arranged, and soon Ms. Phillips found herself a co-producer of the show.
Timely Themes in History and Drama
Seeing a history play today is “very unusual,” explained Ms. Phillips. “After seeing the play for the first time I was struck by how moving and important the history of our country is. Seeing the play lets you experience it.”
Written in 1958, the play focuses on the seven debates and the personal relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas a hundred years earlier, when Lincoln was seeking to unseat Douglas from his Illinois Senate seat. Although Lincoln lost that election, the debate of “popular sovereignty” – whether residents of U.S. territories should be allowed to decide the legality of slavery by voting – attracted nationwide attention for Lincoln and ultimately launched him to the White House.
Ms. Phillips feels that the themes of the debates from 150 years ago – including human rights – couldn’t be timelier. She describes the production as “a perfect combination of an unforgettable history lesson and a wonderful work of dramatic art that echoes from President Abraham Lincoln to today.”
Ms. Phillips and Mr. Dowling, along with executive producer Olwen O’Herlihy, are working to bring “The Rivalry” to other communities throughout the country. From Mamaroneck, the production will travel to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Tickets and More Information
Shows are on November 13 at 8 pm and November 14 at 3 pm and 8 pm. Tickets can be ordered by phone at 698-0098 , or online. Also see the blog on the Emelin’s website for more information about the production.