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Michelle Frehsee

Marvin Shedd and Nan Mann rehearse a moment from “Happy Hollidays,” one of four short plays by Jean Stewart McLean to premiere in Guilford this weekend.

The Arts

A son’s loving tribute

Guilford Center Stage presents work of Jean Stewart McLean, mother of theater group’s co-founder

Tickets are now on sale for the Guilford Center Stage production of To Their Appointed End , four short plays by Jean Stewart McLean. Performances are Friday and Saturday, Oct. 6 and 7, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 8, at 2 pm, upstairs at Broad Brook Grange, 3940 Guilford Center Rd.. Guilford.

GUILFORD—In producing To Their Appointed End, four one-act plays directed by William Stearns, Guilford Center Stage gets personal.

The playwright, Jean Stewart McLean, is GCS co-founder Don McLean’s mother.

The four short plays, written around 1950, have never been staged, and GCS presents them in commemoration of Jean Stewart McLean’s centenary.

“Part of our theater company’s definition is, we do stuff nobody else does,” Don said.

Born in 1917 in Rahway, N.J., Jean Stewart McLean was an avid writer, Don said. The script for the four plays comes from Sparks: The Collected Writings of Jean Stewart McLean, a book Don published in 2013. It includes poems, plays, and short stories, Don told The Commons.

“She wrote poetry as a girl in high school, and in college was an English major,” Don said. “It was the main thing I remember her doing: writing short stories and sending them off to women’s magazines as a sideline to being a housewife.”

But plays were a sort of detour. Other than writing a skit for a Cub Scout pack, Don said, Jean “didn’t evidence much interest in the theater.”

During Don’s childhood in Princeton, he remembers Jean “being part of an informal circle of women writers.”

He doubts Jean has any hidden plays he has yet to discover. “I have all of her boxes of manuscripts and such. I think this is what there is,” Don said.

Plays from the 40s

Jean wrote the quartet of plays — “The Vine,” “To Their Appointed End,” “Where the Saints Have Trod,” and “Happy Hollidays” — mostly in the late-1940s, Don said.

The show opens with “The Vine,” a drama about a young man who has a deep-seated dependence on a large vine growing outside his family home, according to the news release.

Another drama follows. “To Their Appointed End” is about an aged minister who faces the possibility of retirement.

Next on the bill is “Where the Saints Have Trod,” about a new, young minister challenged by filling the shoes of his much-beloved predecessor. Don considers this play a “sort of sequel” to “To Their Appointed End.”

Both plays were inspired by Jean’s upbringing in a church family. Her father was an Episcopalian rector, and when Jean was born, he was already established in the church. “It really informed her upbringing,” Don said.

“My mom and her sister grew up with church teas, church rummage sales, and church activities. My grandmother started a parochial school. [Jean] grew up really immersed in church life; not just religion, but the whole hierarchy, the politics of the church family and parishioners, the whole social structure,” Don said.

“Mom was athletic, and she had this affinity for tomboyish characters, like the wife of the minister in ’Where the Saints Have Trod,’” he added.

That play, and “Happy Hollidays,” are comedies. “The last play is quite fun,” Don said. “The actors in rehearsal said, ‘This is really fun. It’s quite silly!’”

A fast-paced comedy

“Happy Hollidays” is billed in the news release as a “fast-paced comedy about the Hollidays, a theatrical couple who host a radio show from their New York apartment. To their listeners, they are a happy couple. Off the air is a different matter.”

The play, Don said, is loosely based on “Breakfast with Dorothy & Dick,” a daily talk show that aired on New York radio station WOR from 1945 to 1963, starring Dorothy Kilgallen, a reporter and columnist for the Hearst newspapers, and Dick Kollmar, an actor and producer on Broadway and in radio dramas.

“Everybody knows these people on the radio, but what happens when the mics go off? They don’t like each other very much at all,” Don said.

“Happy Hollidays” is filled with puns, wordplay, and “mangling words,” he said. “My mom was really into this. She always had something funny to say,” he added.

“As a kid, I always knew about [her plays] and thought it was kind of neat,” he said. “I remember her typing. She had a funny little typewriter and she wrote in a sewing room — but I don’t remember her sewing.”

A cast of 17 actors from the community will perform the plays, which average about 20 minutes in length. William Stearns directs.

General admission is $10. Cash or check will be accepted at the box office. Those wishing to use a credit or debit card may go to Brown Paper Tickets at bpt.me/2792780 or call 1-800-838-3006.

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Jean Stewart McLean

Originally published in The Commons issue #428 (Wednesday, October 4, 2017). This story appeared on page D1.

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