(CAPE MAY, NJ) -- "It is my belief that the spirit of man is eternal, and free to communicate with the living," claimed photographer William H. Mumler (1832-1884). He also claimed he could take pictures of ghosts with his camera. Mary Todd Lincoln was among the many who flocked to his studio to have pictures taken just to see who would be in the photo. Mumler's photo of Mrs. Lincoln shows the ghost of her husband standing above her, his hand on her shoulder.
One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, in 1869, Mumler had to plead his case, that he was not a fraud, before the Court of Special Sessions in New York City.
The award-winning Equity professional East Lynne Theater Company presents the New Jersey premiere of "Summerland" written by Alaskan playwright Arlitia Jones. Having premiered at the Cincinnati Playhouse in 2017, this ELTC production is only the third presentation of this provocative historical-fiction-mystery. "Summerland" is another name for the afterlife - a land of eternal summer, where there is no more pain or suffering.
Opening on June 12, with an after-show party at The Washington Inn, 801 Washington Street, it runs through July 20, at the First Presbyterian Church of Cape May, 500 Hughes Street, where the theater is in residence. There are four performances weekly, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:30pm, except there is no show on July 4, but there is a show on Sunday, July 7. An after-show Q&A is on Friday, June 21.
The role of Mumler is portrayed by Kyle Walton, who has performed with the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Alliance Rep in Summit, NJ, and the Clarion Theatre in NYC. He was in the American premiere of "Masquerade" with the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra at St. Ann's Cathedral and is an audiobook narrator with many titles available on Audible.
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Taking on the role of Detective Tooker, who aims to prove that Mumler is a fraud, is Jared Mason Murray. In NYC, he's performed at the Seeing Place Theater. Regional credits include The Olney Theatre Center, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, and for five years as Mikey in "Shear Madness" at The Kennedy Center. His film work includes playing Burgundy in "King Lear" for Amazon Prime.
Mumler's wife, Katherine, a clairvoyant, digs into Tooker's past while Tooker investigates the Mumlers. Yale alum, Elisabeth Ness, portrays this intriguing woman. Places where Ness has performed include the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Lincoln Center, Atlantic Theater, Inwood Shakespeare, Signature Theatre, and the Olney Theatre Center. Film work includes TV's "Bull" and "FBI," and she received the Best Sitcom Actress Award for her work on the digital series "Redheads Anonymous." She is on the Broadway Records Original Studio album of the musical "Like You Like It."
"Summerland" is directed by Tom Byrn, who helmed last year's ELTC production of "Silent Sky." He's performed with ELTC since 2009, most recently in two solo shows, "Will Rogers U.S.A." and "Mr. Lincoln." He has acted at various theaters in the Philadelphia area, including, People's Light, Interact, Lantern, and Act II Playhouse, and at various theaters in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio. He's also a member of the Lincoln Center Director's Lab.
Tickets are $35 for general admission, $30 for seniors and those with disabilities and their support companions, $20 for full-time students and military (active/retired/veteran), and, as always, anyone age 12 and under is free. Season tickets are available through June 30, cost $100 for four shows, and are flexible. For information and reservations, call 609-884-5898 or visit www.eastlynnetheater.org.
Meanwhile, "Tales at Twilight," featuring supernatural tales told by the fire pit, is at 7:30pm at the Nature Center, 1600 Delaware Ave., Cape May on Friday, May 31: a co-production between the Nature Center and ELTC. On Monday, June 3, is ELTC's annual golf tournament at The Cape May National Golf Club.
Photo: The cast of East Lynne Theater Company's "Summerland" taken on the first day of rehearsal: Kyle Walton, Elisabeth Ness, Jared Mason Murray. Photo credit: Gayle Stahlhuth