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Land ho! New Mayflower play settling in Sonoma

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In 1620, following a perilous 66-day journey across the Atlantic, the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. It’s one of our first American history lessons, and every year at Thanksgiving we celebrate the English passengers who settled the Plymouth Colony, known by school children across the country as the Pilgrims. Their feast of thanks celebrating the completion of their first harvest at Plymouth is, today, honored as a national holiday, an occasion for families and friends to gather, give thanks and enjoy the traditional meal of turkey, cranberry and pumpkin pie.

As the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim’s landing approaches, plans for celebrations later this year and throughout 2020 are underway. One of those events will happen in Sonoma this November, when the California Mayflower Society will present a one-act drama, “Freedom’s Song,” at Hanna Boys Center.

“We’re thrilled to be staging this play in Sonoma. It’s the perfect place,” said Sally Johnson, membership secretary for the group. “There’s a correlation between the Pilgrims landing 400 years ago and the West Coast settlers who staged the Bear Flag Revolt. Both groups sought freedom and a better life.”

The California Mayflower Society has 2,579 members. It’s the largest state Mayflower organization behind Massachusetts. “We’ve seen a surge in applications ahead of the anniversary,” Johnson said. The society’s mission is the preservation of Mayflower history and heritage through research and education. “Freedom’s Song is a part of that effort,” Johnson said.

The play is written and produced by Antoinette Kuhry, Sonoma resident and Mayflower descendent. Kuhry served as artistic director of the Sonoma City Opera from 1984 to 2010. During that time she staged 33 productions. Kuhry has a bachelor’s degree in speech from Creighton University and a master’s in dramatic art from UC Davis.

“I’m excited to be bringing the Pilgrims’ story to the stage,” Kuhry said. The show will be presented on Nov. 16 and 17.

The play’s director, Eric Thompson, has played many Shakespearean roles, directed more than a dozen productions, taught theater history and acting, and performed in film and TV.

“Freedom’s Song” follows the story of Pilgrim leader – and Kuhry ancestor – William Brewster. Scene I opens in the ship’s cabin with Brewster seated at a chest, a replica of the original, reading a letter. Thirteen-year-old Mary Chilton, the youngest person on the voyage, peers in.

Mary Chilton: Elder Brewster, land is in sight. Please, please hurry!

Brewster: O, praise God!

The scenes that follow revert to the England of the 1580s, an era of stifled freedom. The monarchy and bishops controlled civil and religious activities. Those who protested were arrested, some executed. The 102 on the Mayflower would be among the first of many immigrants to come to America to escape oppression. And though the Pilgrims sought religious freedom, they accomplished so much more. The Mayflower Compact established a civil society, laid the foundation for democracy and led to the First Amendment to the Constitution 171 years later.

“William Shakespeare wrote and performed his plays during this same period,” Kuhry said. “So I followed his lead in structure. And I relied on many sources for insight and detailed accounts, including Mary B. Sherwood’s ‘Pilgrim, A Biography of William Brewster,’ and ‘The Mayflower’ by Rebecca Fraser.”

Auditions for “Freedom’s Song” will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 17 at Hanna Boys Center. There are several important male roles available, as well as six to eight chorus/Pilgrim roles for both men and women.

“The Chorus, in ancient Greek tradition, serves as narrator and commentator on the action. Chorus speeches are in verse,” Kuhry said.

Those interested in performing in this timely play can contact Antoinette Kuhry at 996-3357 or by email akuhry@vom.com. A script will be forwarded along with confirmation of audition time. For those unable to make the Aug. 17 date, another audition time can be arranged. A stipend will be provided for those appearing in the play.

Tickets for the performances go on sale Sept. 15 through Kuhry’s email.

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