News: Site-Specific "Thou Shalt Not," About the Hall-Mills Double Homicide, Begins Limited Engagement September 14th

 

Celine Dirkes as Jane Gibson. Photo by Jordan Cohen
Thinkery & Verse’s Thou Shalt Not, a site-specific play about the Hall-Mills double homicide, will begin a return engagement on September 14th, recognizing the 100th anniversary of the crime. Thou Shalt Not, written by J. M. Meyer, Karen Alvarado, and Tommi Byrne, and directed by Karen Alvarado and J. M. Meyer, will play a limited engagement in the Assembly Hall at the Church of Saint John the Evangelist (189 George Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901), the church most closely associated with the crime 100 years ago, as the home of the religious community that enabled and then covered up the homicides. Performances will continue through Saturday, October 8, and tickets are already selling out quickly. 

For those not versed in early 20th-century true crime, what is the Hall-Mills double homicide? In 1922, near the banks of the Raritan River, a small-city priest and a choir singer were slaughtered in the most infamous unsolved double homicide of the 20th century. Incompetent cops, political operatives, and the poorest and most powerful families in New Jersey were all swallowed in the circus that followed. In Thou Shalt Not, Thinkery & Verse, working with the Church of Saint John the Evangelist, present a nightmare narrative seen through the perspective Charlotte Mills, a young woman desperate to find her mother's murderer.
The Thou Shalt Not ensemble reacts to the crime scene. Photo by Jordan Cohen
Thou Shalt Not is conceived as a theatrical exploration of real events. As guests of the Church of Saint John the Evangelist, the audience will meet Reverend Edward Hall, Mrs. Frances Hall, Eleanor Mills, and all the main players of New Brunswick in 1922. The audience will be guided through a dark and surreal journey of the events leading to and following the vicious murders of the minister and the choir singer and the circus that surrounded the event. The play offers a re-assessment of history, the complicity of a community, and the sharp exploration of the female voices long since hushed. To best enable this exploratory journey, the staging of the play will be both peripatetic and immersive.

For years, the male-dominated vestry did not allow the Church of Saint John the Evangelist to discuss the murders. Now the vestry is mostly women, and so they do not just talk about it: they sponsored this play. Women, they feel, do not cover up violence against women. Martha Godfrey, who is a member of the vestry at Saint John’s reflects on the tragedy: “The Hall-Mills case is something that we’ve had hanging over our heads for a long time. It used to be, people would get mad at you for talking about it. I think, as a congregation, we need to get out in front of it. The play is a way of doing that.” The organist, Dr. Susan Huslage agrees, adding, “Why wouldn’t we be allowed to talk about it? It’s how the community views us, though it was a long time ago—certainly before any of us were around. But growing up here, we knew the people involved. It’s not a good thing to have in your past.”
Photo by Henry Strehlo
Director Karen Alvarado adds, "The church's reputation remains mired in the Hall-Mills double homicide. When my son's godparents heard that we would get our son baptized there, they were shocked that the church was even still open. When we perform in the space, it certainly becomes a 'thin place,' where the past haunts the present. For theater people, it's got Macbeth vibes - only very, very real."

JM Meyer remarks about the current production, "We are using color-conscious casting, so the ethnicity of the cast reflects the ethnic diversity of the congregation in 2022 rather than 1922. The church is no longer a haven for the wealthy, but instead a gathering place for the working-class, and ex-patriots of Sierra Leone. That informs how we cast the play, and how we approach the material. The community never lets us forget how racism, misogyny, class prejudice, and politics created an environment ripe for violence.”
Photo courtesy Kampfire PR
The production stars a cast that draws from the Rutgers Mason Gross conservatory. Andrew Banbridge (Rita, the Cleaning Lady) debuts as Willie Stevens, Erin Bogert (That’s How the Story Goes: Season 1 and 2, Dinah) returns as Pearl Bahmer, Celine Dirkes (Rita, the Cleaning Lady) slides into the role of Jane Gibson (infamously labeled ‘the Pig Lady’ by the tabloids), newcomer Gio Guanill plays Ralph Gorsline/The Judge/Detective 2, Kaitlin Ormerod Hutson (That’s How the Story Goes) reprises Eleanor Mills, Johnny Kavanagh (Thou Shalt Not, Last Days of Judas Iscariot) returns as the abusive Raymond Schneider, Madhu Murali (Rita, the Cleaning Lady) debuts as Charlotte Mills, Rebecca Servon (Ghost Hunt) returns as church gossip Minnie Clark, and Lazarus Simmons (Ghost HuntDinah) joins the cast  as the doomed Reverend Edward Hall. The production, for which Jackie Mercer is the Production Manager, features music direction and sound design by Sean Ulmer, scenic and costume design by Ashley Basile, and lighting design by Sarah Woods. 

Thou Shalt Not, which runs 2 hours plus a 10-minute intermission, plays the following regular schedule through Saturday, October 8:

Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.

Fridays at 7:30 p.m.

Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are available here. Tickets can also be purchased at the church a half hour prior to the performance, although, due to increasingly limited availability, it is probably a good idea to reserve a place as early as possible. 10 tickets will be reserved for each show at a 'pay what you can' rate.

for more information, visits Thinkery & Verse on the web: 

Website: www.thinkeryandverse.org

Twitter: thinkery_verse

Instagram: thinkery_and_verse

Facebook: thinkeryandverse

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