Students bring prohibition back to Norwalk with summer show
NORWALK — Liam Huff is accustomed to playing villains in his school plays.
“I’ve played villains before, but never a gangster,” said Hull, from Ridgefield, who plays the ruthless mob boss Mike Serrano.
“You’ve played villains almost very show we’ve been in,” joked his friend, Clara Sussmann, of Redding.
The two 15-year-olds were seated, with their fellow gangster Victoria Papadopoulos, of Norwalk, at a table near the entrance to Norwalk’s Crystal Theater, three days out from the debut of “Prohibition, Norwalk: 1925,” an original historic play on the city during the time alcohol was banned in America. Sussmann and Papadopolous split time as Serrano’s girlfriend and a bartender with possible mob ties, named Gina Bertino.
The play was written by Samantha Kulish-Fargione, who has directed plays at the Crystal Theater for the past 10 years and is the educational coordinator, with music and lyrics by Cheryl E. Kemeny and choreography by Char Fromentin. It’s the third in Kemeny’s Ellis Island series, and the sequel to the 2017 Norwalk-based musical, “Whistleville.”
Kulish-Fargione wrote the most recent play over the course of eight months in 2012 and 2013, combing over old newspaper clippings, history books and yearbooks from the era to create characters that would be true to the time period, some of whom — like beloved Norwalk High School music teacher Mary McCarthy and Huff’s Serrano — are based on real people.
“My goal was to get the kids who are performing interested in history. I find that to get kids interested in history, they have to connect to something,” said Kulish-Fargione, a Norwalk native who still lives in the city.
Ana Rosa Sforza
North Salem, NY
According to the three gangsters, the Kulish-Fargione’s strategy has been somewhat successful.
“I never knew that this happened in Norwalk,” said 15-year-old Papadopoulos, a Brien McMahon sophomore participating in her second Crystal Theater performance.
“I know a lot more about (Prohibition) now than I did,” Sussmann added.
The play centers around Robin Brennen, a family man who gets mixed in with a group of bootleggers.
“That’s kind of the main plot of this show — someone who’s not a criminal is committing crimes,” Sussman said.
The cast includes town busy-body Mary Seymour Hirst, who is trying to keep the town dry, Robin’s sister, Lillian, who runs with a hard-partying, glamorous crowd, and a group of gangsters come to Connecticut from Brooklyn.
Most of the cast, though not all, has acted before, according to Kulish-Fargione. This is true for the three gangsters, Huff, Sussmann and Papadopoulos, each of whom has participated in the theater program at their respective schools.
But, they said, the type of characters they’re being asked to play is different than past roles, not just because of the historical connection, but because of the moral ambiguity with which Kulish-Fargione’s script is imbued.
“The way we play our character is a bit more sympathetic than you’d expect a gangster’s girlfriend to be,” Sussmann said. “I just feel like there’s more depth to the bad characters in this show than there normally is.”
“They’re just trying to make a living, they’re not inherently bad. They’re just really, desperately trying to protect what they’ve built for themselves,” Huff concurred.
“Prohibition, Norwalk: 1925” will be performed Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Crystal Theatre, 66 Bayview Ave. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and children under 16.
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