The play, officially opening Jan. 17, was commissioned by Geva Theatre Center specifically for a Rochester, NY, audience. Based on actual events, according to Geva notes, "the play centers on the Fox family, in particular the two youngest daughters, Catherine and Margaretta, who conversed through rappings with the spirit of a peddler who had been murdered in the house many years before. In the winter of 1848, the Fox family moved from Rochester to a small cottage among the farm fields of Hydesville, southeast of the city. Soon after the move, they began to hear strange sounds — rapping in the walls — and to hear tales of a long-ago murder in the house. Where was the knocking coming from? What secrets did the house hold within its walls? Sometimes the most intense hauntings come from within our own houses…"
The Fox family were later local stars as "mediums," appearing in Rochester's Corinthian Hall. They were huge celebrities. "During the early 19th-century, prior to the creation of the Erie Canal, this area was still considered a frontier and the inhabitants were largely self-taught, making them susceptible to folk religion," according to Geva. "The area spawned a number of religious movements including the Latter Day Saint movement (founded in Palmyra), the Millerites (founded in Low Hampton), the Oneida Society, the Fourierist Utopian society (founded in Skaneateles) and the American movement of Spiritualism with the Fox sisters in Hydesville."
O'Brien's research for this project "has led him from the remains of the house in Hydesville, to the archives of the Rush Rhees Library at the University of Rochester and to the center of Spiritualism in Lily Dale (near Fredonia)."
Geva's production of The House in Hydesville features Lauren Orkus and Annie Purcell as the Fox sisters Catherine and Maggie; Kristin Griffith as their mother Margaret, and Michael Rudko as their father John. Garrett Neergaard (David), Rachel Rusch (Lizzie) and Sara Surrey (Leah) complete the cast.
The production is directed by Geva's artist in residence, Skip Greer. The design team includes John Patrick Clark (scenic designer), B. Modern (costume designer) and Lindsay Jones (sound designer). For reservations call (585) 232-GEVA or visit www.gevatheatre.org.
Geva Theatre Center, at 75 Woodbury Blvd, Rochester, NY, is Rochester's leading professional theatre. Founded in 1972, Geva attracts over 160,000 patrons annually, including more than 16,000 students. The 552-seat Elaine P. Wilson Mainstage offers a wide variety of shows, from musicals to American and world classics. The 180-seat Ron & Donna Fielding Nextstage "is home to Geva's own series of cutting-edge drama, comedy and musical theatre"; Geva Comedy Improv; Geva's New Play Reading Series and the Hornet's Nest — an innovative play-reading series facilitating community-wide discussion on controversial topics. The Nextstage also hosts visiting companies of both local and international renown.
For the past 13 years, the organization has been led by artistic director Mark Cuddy.