Lincoln revives its theater tradition by staging a ’20s comedy

LINCOLN — Two Lincoln institutions — the Burnham Foundation and resident Harriett “Hattie” Brown — both celebrated 100th birthdays this year. Thanks to a dedicated group of community members, those milestones will intersect this weekend.
“Silas Takes the Air,” a 1927 play set in small-town New England and written by Donald Jacobus, opens Friday night at Lincoln’s Burnham Hall, followed by a second performance of the comedy on Saturday. Both shows begin at 7 p.m.
“This is my first time performing, and I’m having so much fun — everyone is,” said Lincoln resident Sally Ober, who hopes “Silas” will spark a revival in Lincoln-based theater.
This is not the first time Burnham Hall has hosted a production of “Silas.” Though program and casting details are lost to time, Hattie Brown once acted in the play. In fact the playscript used for this weekend’s production came from her personal collection.
“We invited Hattie to come see the play, but the starting time is basically her bedtime,” Ober said. 
Still, the cast and crew hoped the former thespian might catch one of their dress rehearsals and be reminded of her own days treading the boards at Burnham Hall. 
“We’re dedicating our performances to her,” Ober added.
Though “Silas” isn’t set in Vermont, co-directors Martha Chesley and Andrea Gordon (who recently retired as directors of the Mount Abe Fall Musical) have given the script a few creative tweaks to make it feel more local.
“So for instance, when a character says, ‘I’m off to such-and-such,’ we changed it to Burlington,” Chesley explained.
RESIDENTS OF LINCOLN and nearby communities will perform the 1927 comedy “Silas Takes the Air” this weekend at Burnham Hall to help celebrate the Burnham Foundation’s 100th anniversary. In a Monday evening rehearsal, from left to right, are Todd Goodyear, Nancy Stevens, Megan Harris, Shawn Kimball, Sally Ober, Leeya Tudek and Andrew Morris.
Independent photo/Christopher Ross
Other serendipitous connections required no tweaking.
Ober, who is Lincoln’s town clerk, plays the wife of a town clerk in “Silas.” And two of the families in the play have last names that will be familiar to many Vermonters: Deming and Lathrop.
The cast of “Silas” includes Todd Goodyear, Sally Ober, Leeya Tudek, Megan Harris, Andrew Morris, Shawn Kimball, Nancy Stevens, Grace Freeman, Ian Freeman and Aidan Warren.
Throughout the rehearsal process they’ve also had an unofficial “scene partner” — Stevens’s 14-plus-year-old rescue dog, Georgia (“part lab, part pit, part sumpin’ else,” according to her owner).
“Georgia has been to every rehearsal, right up there onstage,” Chesley said. “We thought about including her for the performances, but we worried that someone might trip over her during the chaos.”
This weekend’s dramatic extravaganza is only the latest in a series of Burnham Legacy celebrations in Lincoln this year.
“For the past 100 years, the Burnham Foundation has been a major part of the reason our community is so enriched, and it is my pleasure to help facilitate our celebration of it,” wrote Ober in press release last winter. “With support from the Burnham Foundation, the Lincoln selectboard, Neat Repeats and other donors, you can expect to see a lot of activity in 2019 focusing on Burnham.”
So far, the foundation has helped organize a talk and historical display at the Lincoln Library, text for this year’s Lincoln Town Report and February’s Hill Country Holiday.
The foundation is also open to suggestions for future events, Ober said.
Seating for “Silas” is general admission, first come, first served. Instead of tickets there will be a donation jar at the door. 
“We hope people will consider making a generous donation in honor of the Burnham centennial fundraising campaign, but even if your pockets aren’t feeling very deep, we want you to come see the show!” wrote organizers in the event announcement.
Special front-row seating in “extra comfy chairs” will be available for those who donate $100 to the fund. Reservations can be made by calling Sally Ober at (802) 349-3440, but space is limited.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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