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Year in Review: ‘Lords of Menantic’ brings Shelter Island history to life

Published in July 2023.

The Shelter Island Historical Society welcomed Islanders this past weekend to watch its third annual musical, “Lords of Menantic.”

This presentation of a slice of the Island’s past, depicting one of its prominent families, was based on research by its creator, Lisa Shaw, who wrote the script and original songs, combining them with traditional music, and directed the production.

This year’s musical follows her earlier productions, “A Hill of Beans,” depicting the Island’s ill-fated lima bean industry, and last year’s “Prospect of Summer,” centered around the historic Prospect Hotel during Prohibition.

The audience enjoyed seeing their friends, neighbors and families step into character and show off their talents. The central players are the shipbuilding Lord brothers, played by James Dawson, Danny Berner and Christopher Herman.

Debating Capt. Lord’s chances of success are, from left, Jim Gereghty, Marie Bishko, Tim Purtell and Chris Carey. (Credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi)

Their sisters, played by Lenore Dileo-Berner and Donna Emma, are trapped in spinster lives by the tradition of “coverture,” which would entitle their husbands, should they marry, to their property. The Lord brothers are not about to share their Menantic Creek estate with interloping brothers-in-law.

In a climactic scene, Capt. Sam Lord’s funeral, from left, Cat Brigham, Dan Berner, Marie Bishko, Tim Purtell, Lenore DiLeo-Berner, James Dawson, Charley Stark, Christina Herman, Marianne Carey. (Credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi)

Sam Lord accepts the challenge of running through a Continental blockade staged by Napoleon in 1804. A clever bit of staging suggests the French fleet, with cast members advancing across the grounds toward the stage carrying Napoleonic flags. Captain Lord’s ship, Paragon, is effectively represented by three rectangles of white linen suspended between two poles.

The rest of the set, thanks to Peter Waldner’s design, depicts the hearth at the Lords’ home on Menantic Creek. Janet D’Amato and Charley Stark are members of the Lord household, welcomed back by the audience as familiar members of the musical cast.

Jenifer Maxson plays Hagar, a Native American woman drawn from the Island’s history, who lived along the Creek. She counsels Hannah Lord on contending with coverture and the losses it has inflicted on her life.

Several cast members take on more than one role, with costumes supplied by North Fork Community Theatre helping with the transformation. Marie Bishko and Tim Purtell are Paragon’s crew, with Tim also dropping by the Lords’ as Squire Bowditch in pursuit of their “poor tax” donations. Chris Carey and Jim Gereghty offer comic relief as skeptical sea captains in Richmond, and later as local officials on the successful arrival of the Paragon, soon to be hailed by the mayor, played by Jim Dougherty, at the Liverpool docks.

Catherine Brigham plays a sassy woman on those docks, turning up later as Eliza, who commits to a new life on Shelter Island with her husband, Daniel Lord (Danny Berner), a minister who’s been bequeathed the family estate by his aunt, Hannah. Her youthful eccentricity has apparently descended into mental illness; nevertheless, she’s had the last laugh by outliving her siblings and choosing her heir.

Marianne Carey makes her debut in the Island musical as a singer and dancer, with Christina Herman making this year’s show a three-peat. Martha Pichey also added her voice to the musical entertainment, enlivened by the choreography of Alyssa Kelly.

The weeks of rehearsal by the cast was matched by the hard work of the crew, led by stage manager Charity Robey, with Liz Hanley, Alice Klaris and Joanne Sherman transforming the stage, extending from the History Center barn into a variety of settings as the play unfolds.

Lisa Shaw accompanied the play on the piano, complemented by fellow musicians Rev. Dr. Stephen D. Adkison, percussionist; Jed Feldman on the flute; Tom Hashagen playing the mandolin; and Carolyn Topp, on the cello.

Ms. Shaw also enlisted the help of her husband, Mr. Hashagen, with set construction, with another family member, son Adam, providing artistic talents for the program and posters.

The Lord siblings, from left, Dan Berner, Christopher Herman , James Dawson, Donna Emma, Lenore DiLeo-Berner. In the background, Jenifer Maxson and Charley Stark. (Credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi)

The support of the Shelter Island Historical Society Board, staff and volunteers, as well as the sponsorship of the Shelter Island School District, were all gratefully acknowledged in making this summer event, an important fundraiser for the Society, a smashing success.