NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

“Saltonstall” recalls Haverhill history

student dressed up in a colonial costume

Liberal Arts Student Aileen Corniel portrayed Goody Coo

two men dressed in colonial outfits Photo by Punctuate4.org

Doug Brendel as Nathaniel Saltonstall and Les Tarmy as Rev. John Ward. At the John Ward home in Haverhill, MA

A sign promoting a play. The sign has a picture of a deep red sky and a noose

A sign for the play outstide the John Spurk (C) building

 

 

He deserves to have his story told for the sake of memrory.
Michael Cormier, Playwright

This weekend, Northern Essex Community College lent out the Chester Hawrylciw Theater to Punctuate4 Productions debuting their new play “Saltonstall”.

Written by playwright and former attorney Michael Cormier and director Myriam Cyr, the work portrays Nathaniel Saltonstall, a distinguished Haverhill judge who was invited to sit on the Court of Oyer and Terminer during the Salem witch trials, where he stood against the formidable Judge William Stoughton.

Saltonstall was the only judge to recuse himself from the trials after witnessing the madness that took place. The play ran through Thursday Nov. 1 to Sunday Nov. 4.

“I had always been interested in the Salem witch trials over the years and ran across Nathaniel Saltonstall [story] from Haverhill.” said Cormier, a Haverhill native himself. “I wondered what kind of man would do this while others didn’t. He deserves to have his story told for the sake of memory.”

As a former attorney, Cormier said that he had felt a kindred spirit with Saltonstall and his moral dilemma. “I can relate to Nathaniel’s feelings of how to reconcile what I’ve been taught and immersed in the society I live in with hypocrisy around him.” says Cormier. “People I knew as good people I see now having terrible flaws in them and I’m asking myself,  ‘How do I handle them?’ Manipulation of truth, perceptions about people, hatred, all of it is just as important today as it was prominent back then.”

“Because of Michael, the show is a beautiful melding of research and imagination. He learned so much about the Salem witch trials; where the record is blank he has filled in.” says Doug Brendel who portrayed the title character. “Michael’s command of every detail is wonderful. He can say with authority what’s right and what’s wrong. Saltonstall was the attention getter, big shot in Haverhill court, a socialite, leader and judge, he was looked up to. My portrayal of Saltonstall needs to be accurate for the history, and to be true to Michael’s vision because (his) vision is true to history.”

Punctuate4 Productions is a new theater company made by members of Black Box Lab at Stage 284. Director Myriam Cyr and PR Specialist Linda Greenstein are among the co-founders along with Patricia P. Jamison and Cat Stramer. All the founders have professional backgrounds in theater, and have a focus on producing new works around the New England area. “Saltonstall” is the company’s first effort.

Cormier had met Greenstein through his wife whom Greenstein was doing a story on for the Eagle Tribune. “He had trouble doing research, because there’s not a lot of documentation from the 17th century,” said Greenstein. As a result of networking, she directed Cormier to the Buttonwoods Museum to help him with his research. Buttonwoods was originally Nathaniel Saltonstall’s estate. The play makes several references to historical locations such as John Ward’s property and the worshiping oak.

Greenstein’s son Noah, a NECC alumnus, had met Cyr through an arts and theater internship he was doing through the school. He was recruited in Cyr’s production of “Mary Poppins” where he was the prop master, and has worked with her in other productions. Later he appeared in an equity reading of “Saltonstall” at the Buttonwoods Museum’s annual meeting in June 2017 and equity staging at the Community House of Hamilton.

Several NECC students (both current and alumni) appeared in the play, one of which was Liberal Arts student Aileen Corniel of Lawrence. She made her theatrical debut in the Top Notch Player’s production of “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” and landed the role of Goody Cooper and Martha in an open audition of “Saltonstall”.

“Theater is a collaboration more so when you’re a college student. One person has to do most of the work for everyone, but professional theater has people doing multiple roles, and keeping in touch with important people.” Corniel says. “You go through more and different steps to get things done. I’ve learned a lot from watching other professional actors and their process. I’m so mesmerized in watching Myriam direct during rehearsals, and seeing [actors] apply her directing into their performance, it helps me learn and grow as an actor.”

Punctuate4 owes its thanks to Jeff Linehan and the college trustees for bringing the show to NECC. “Linehan felt that since it was a Haverhill story, he thought it was important that the production debuted in Haverhill.” says Greenstein. Linehan is also the treasurer of the Buttonwoods Museum, and first saw the show at the Buttonwoods meeting last summer.

The production was moved to the Chester Hawrylciw Theater Oct. 25. where they did dress rehearsals and built the set. “I think they [NECC] should host productions more often; it brings lots of good publicity to the school, lots of positivity.” says Corniel. “People don’t even know we have theater and they come to see a show like this; it has made other people and organizations be aware of space we have.”

“It was a great way for NECC to connect with the greater Haverhill community, it was great having so many people come to the theater for the first time,” says Greenstein.

Cormier says his next play will be about the Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence back in 1912, led by the Industrial Workers of the Word consisting of immigrant and female workers.

It is expected to be finished by next year.

Refreshments at the play were served by the Commonwealth Honors students as a fundraiser.