NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - A theater company is partnering with the Church of St. John the Evangelist on George Street to produce a stage play that re-imagines an infamous event that rocked the city almost 100 years ago.
Thinkery & Verson will be recreating the 1922 Hall-Mills double homicide when the curtain goes up on "Thou Shall Not" starting on Thursday, Sept. 13
The production will be held at the church and is based on one of the most infamous moments in the city's history.
The discovery of the bodies of Eleanor Mills and Edward Hall on Sept. 16, 1922, in a field near the New Brunswick-Franklin border received national newspaper coverage.
Hall was a pastor at the Church of St. John the Evangelist. Mills was a member of the congregation's choir. Both had been shot in the head and their bodies were placed on their backs. Love letters were torn up and left between the bodies.
Despite intensive investigations, two trials and widespread media coverage, no one was convicted of the murders.
Thinkery & Verse returns to the church after its run of Shakespeare’s "Much Ado About Nothing" and its production of "Bride of the Gulf" at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland.
Karen Alvarado, co-artistic director of Thinkery & Verse, considers "Thou Shall Not" a natural extension of its past two productions.
“We’re excited to be back in New Jersey,” Alvarado said, “and to create a play so intimately tied to a place we love. The Hall-Mills story has the highs and lows of Shakespeare, but also requires the cutting-edge performance skills we developed while working on 'Bride of the Gulf.' This true crime story is a perfect match for our passions as artists and our commitment to working within the community at St. John’s.”
Martha Godfrey, a member of the vestry at St. John’s, said the murder case has cast a long shadow on the congregation for many years.
"It used to be, people would get mad at you for talking about it, "Godfrey said. " I think, as a congregation, we need to get out in front of it. The play is a way of doing that.”
Organist Susan Huslage, said: “Why wouldn’t we be allowed to talk about it? It’s how the community views us, though it was a long time ago—certainly before any of us were around. But growing up here, we knew the people involved. It’s not a good thing to have in your past.”
"Thou Shall Not" focuses on Mills and the effect of her death upon her daughter, Charlotte, a self-proclaimed flapper. The play begins with Charlotte Mills returning to the church. She is wracked by fear and senses that her life is nearing its own premature end. Charlotte is desperate for the peace that has evaded her since her mother’s murder. She sets out to resurrect and re-imagine the events surrounding her mother’s death one last time.
The writing team for "Thou Shall Not" is rounded out by J.M. Meyer, the award-winning playwright of last year's "Bride of the Gulf," and New York-based writers Tom Byrne and Lou Bullock. Thinkery & Verse is proud to introduce new ensemble members Ania Upstill. Rebecca Servon, Johnny Kavanagh, Carl Muhler, and Cassandra Vaz. The ensemble includes returning Thinkery & Verse actress Monica Vilela ("Bride of the Gulf" and music director Sean Ullmer ("Bride of the Golf and "Rita the Cleaning Lady").
Scenic designer Ashley Basile returns to Thinkery & Verse after previously working on "Bride of the Gulf" and "Much Ado About Nothing" along with costume designer Liza Alexis.
The ensemble includes Erin Bogert, Celine Dirkes, Rejy Drayton, and Kaitlin Ormerod, all of whom performed with Thinkery & Verse for the workshop of Sean Ullmer's new musical, "Rita the Cleaning Lady." Rita the Cleaning Lady. The choreographer, also returning from "Rita the Cleaning Lady, " is a recent Rutgers Mason Gross alumna Jenna Zielinski.