The two-person play, written and performed by local actress and musician Ann Maggs, and joined by Walter Carroll, actor and local voice for WFCR public radio, will bring to life the 20th century, world-renowned Polish Shakespearean actress Helen Modjeska (1840-1909). Regarded as one of the most celebrated performers in America in her time, Modjeska performed at the Academy of Music in 1894, 1899, and 1900.
In her inaugural performance at the Academy, the reviewer from the Daily Hampshire Gazette called her "one of the three or four great actors of the age" and said of her performance, "this is the acme of art." This year is the 100th anniversary of the Modjeska's death, and this special performance will re-enact and celebrate her great presence on the stage most notably at the Academy of Music, one of her frequent venues. Often performing with such theater greats as Maurice Barrymore and Edwin Booth (brother of John Wilkes Booth), she traveled the country acting in small towns and big cities.
Born in Krakow, Poland, in 1840, she had an illustrious and colorful life. Introduced to the theater by a family tutor, Gustav Sinnmayer, she eventually began performing at the Imperial Theater in Warsaw, Poland. As Poland was then under the occupation of foreign powers, she was encouraged to perform in the United States beyond the watchful eyes of the Russian censors.
Initially settling in Southern California as a member of a Utopian community, its ultimate demise prompted her to improve her English language skills and bring her remarkable presence to the American stage. For almost a quarter of a century she would play a significant role in our cultural fabric from having a candy created to celebrate her fame (still made by a Kentucky confectioner) to having a mountain named in her honor in Southern California (Mt. Modjeska) to being the godmother to one of the greats of American acting, Ethel Barrymore, she had an influence far beyond her roles on the stage.
Drawn to recreating historical personages who have had remarkable influence in our artistic legacy is nothing new for Ann Maggs. She has authored and performed in bio-plays of Belle Skinner, a remarkable member of the influential Skinner family of Holyoke, and Mabel Loomis Todd, the first editor of poet Emily Dickinson. Maggs was drawn to Helena Modjeska for both personal and professional reasons: of Polish heritage herself, Maggs was aware Modjeska's incredible life, and as a modern artist, she respects the challenges that Modjeska had to endure to practice her craft.
Advanced tickets are available: $15 for orchestra and $12 for general, and can be purchased at the Odyssey Bookstore (South Hadley), PolArt Jeweler (Chicopee), Jones Library (Amherst), Gramp's Restaurant (Holyoke), State Street Fruit Market (Northampton), and the Academy of Music Box Office. Tickets for the day of the performance are $18 for orchestra and $15 for general seating and can be purchased at the door.
A partner with the main Kosciuszko Foundation headquartered in New York, New York, the New England Chapter presents programs and events celebrating and promoting Polish culture, history and traditions, as well as increasing awareness of the contributions of Poland to world civilization, and is particularly honored to present this performance.
For information about the Kosciuszko Foundation, visit the Web site at www.kf.org".
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