Playhouse in Middlebury to present one-man show about a Manchester murder
There was a murder in Manchester. You haven’t heard?
It was tragic really. Russell Colvin was beaten by his brothers-in-law and then went missing. For seven long years, the townspeople did nothing to find him; no search party, no investigation, nothing. That is until, Russell’s ghost started haunting the town.
Next Friday, Aug. 18, you can see Manchester’s very own unsolved murder case of 1812 reenacted by Oliver Wadsworth in a one-man show at Middlebury’s Vermont Coffee Company Playhouse, at 7:30 p.m.
Wadsworth portrays a motley medley of characters, as they grapple with the slippery truth of the real life murder of Russell Colvin — a mentally impaired, eccentric Vermonter.
“There are four points of view on this story,” explained Kirk Jackson, an acting teacher at Bennington College who directed the show.
One narrator is a staid elder relative of Russell Colvin; the second is Rufus, Colvin’s son, who is an eye witness to his father’s beating; the third is a French museum curator in Albany, N.Y., who set up a tableau vivant of Colvin and brought national attention to the case; and the final narrator is a British con-man, who looked at the story as a career goldmine.
“Ollie plays 15-20 characters,” estimated Jackson, a 1988 graduate of Yale School of Drama. “He tells the stories with multiple characters coming out of him, which he does really well.”
For an hour and 10 minutes, Wadsworth blinks in and out of his characters and delivers strikingly different versions of reality.
“If you’re looking for an answer, don’t,” said Wadsworth, who is based in New York City as an actor, but calls Shaftsbury, Vt., home with Jackson. “We don’t know how this mystery is solved. History has given us many, many different versions.”
Wadsworth and Jackson would know too; they’ve been studying this case for more than five years. Admittedly, a lot of the research was done along side their other gigs, but about a year an a half ago that changed. Jackson received an Arts Endowment Fund grant from the Vermont Community Foundation in Middlebury, and the couple committed to developing the piece.
In researching, Wadsworth and Jackson learned about early 19th century Yankee solo performers, who they were and how they played and toured their shows; including some fascinating history on original curtains in Vermont theaters — if you’re curious ask Wadsworth…
But it’s not about the curtains, it’s about the story of Russell Colvin, his death, his ghost and the near hanging of his brothers-in-law, who eventually stood trial.
“Playing multiple characters, not only challenges my instrument as an actor — vocally, physically and emotionally — it is also fulfilling in a deeply personally way,” Wadsworth, a 1988 New York University Tisch School of the Arts grad, explains in the intro to the program. “Playing against gender, age and ethnicity, allows me to inhabit characters I would not normally be cast as. The result is empathy for people that I might not otherwise know. It broadens my range of experience and I believe it could have the same effect on an audience. Arousing curiosity about all kinds of individuals is what I love about this kind of work.”
Wadsworth and Jackson opened the show at the Dorset Theater Festival where Melissa Lourie, artistic director of Middlebury Actors Workshop, saw the show and helped it come north to the Vermont Coffee Company Playhouse on Exchange Street in Middlebury.
Come share an intimate, exploration of this mystery on Friday evening. Tickets are $12 and available through the Town Hall Theater box office or online at townhalltheater.org.
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