Hepburn Remembered at July 2 Opening of Sherlock Holmes at CT House She Once Played

News   Hepburn Remembered at July 2 Opening of Sherlock Holmes at CT House She Once Played Local media folk have been dropping by the Ivoryton Playhouse, in Ivoryton, Connecticut, since Katharine Hepburn's June 29 death at age 96 in nearby Old Saybrook.

Arthur Pignataro, production manager of River Rep, the company in residence at the former community hall and longtime stock venue, said people have come by the playhouse to take a photo or video of Hepburn's portrait there.

The photo of the late-career Kate is framed at the back of the house and includes her credits from the 1931 Ivoryton season: Just Married, It's a Wise Child, Alias the Deacon, Jonesy, The Cat and the Canary, Let Us Be Gay and The Man Who Came Back.

The walls of the playhouse are lined with the signed headshots of hundreds of stars who have performed there since it began as a stock house in 1930.

Hepburn played Ivoryton when it was run by New York director and stage manager Milton Stiefel, who founded the stock troupe and ran it through 1976. River Rep continues a tradition of live professional Equity theatre there; this is River Rep's 17th season.

Pignataro said a speech remembering Hepburn will be made before the 8 PM July 2 performance of Sherlock Holmes. Veteran actor-director Evan Thompson, one of the founders of River Rep, will address the audience, and a sound bite of a famous film performance by Hepburn will be played. Sherlock Holmes, meanwhile, features local favorite Owen Thompson as evil Prof. Moriarty, Stephen Kunken (of Broadway's Proof) as Holmes, Jeff Talbott as Dr. Watson and Tracy Liz Miller as the woman Holmes falls for. The play is by Arthur Conan Doyle and actor William Gillette, who starred in the play for years. Gillette built the eccentric Gillette Castle, his sprawling home, which is now a nearby tourist destination.

The Sherlock Holmes troupe also includes Ron Bagden, John Cayer, Jean Tafler, Todd Thurston, Timothy Abbott, Rainbow Dickerson, Melanie French, Damien Langan, Michael Sayers, John T. Swanson, Russell Webb. Scenic design is by Bob Phillips, lighting by Marcus Abbott and costumes by Jennie Cleaver and David Toser. Sound is by Adam Elander.

The Ivoryton Playhouse is at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton, 45 minutes from New Haven. For information, call (860) 767-8348 or visit the website at www.riverrep.com.

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The ambitious 2003 summer slate includes a staging of the large-cast Follies, the Stephen Sondheim musical, July 23-Aug. 2; Neil Simon's The Good Doctor featuring Ivoryton favorite Warren Kelley, the troupe's artistic director, Aug. 6-16; and Joe DiPietro's Italian family comedy, Over the River and Through the Woods, Aug. 20-31, with Evan Thompson and wife Joan Shepard. The season began with The Comedy of Errors.

Sherlock Holmes features Stephen Kunken (who played Hal in the Broadway and touring company of Proof) as the detective and Jeff Talbott as Dr. Watson. The pair appeared together in the first New York revival of Arthur Laurents' Home of the Brave.

The Equity-affiliated River Rep is run by partners Warren Kelly (artistic director), Joan Shepard (the actress managing director), producing directors Julia Kiley, Evan Thompson, Jenn Thompson, Owen Thompson (all resident favorites as actors and directors), and production manager Arthur Pignataro. Jane Stanton is artistic director emeritus.

The non-profit playhouse, renovated in recent years, is a former recreation hall built for employees of the local (now-defunct) pianoworks. The Ivoryton Playhouse was an active summer stock house 1930-1976 when New York stage manager Milton Stiefel offered stars in comedies, mysteries and dramas. Stiefel discovered the 1908 venue while vacationing and thought it would make a nice summer theatre.

The space was built by the piano company that ruled the town. It was a hall for films, meetings and theatricals. The city, formerly called Centerbrook, was renamed in 1888 in honor of ivory used for piano keyboards.

After Stiefel's reign ended in 1976, the summer stock venture went through several managements before River Rep settled in 1987 and stuck there. River Rep has produced more than 65 shows, including one world premiere under a small professional theatre (SPT) Equity contract.

The subscribership is mostly residential, but there are tourists, too, Joan Shepard told Playbill On-Line.

Stars from Ethel Waters to Marlon Brando walked the boards there in the Stiefel era.