One hundred years ago, the original version of what is now the Duluth Playhouse opened with a production of George Bernard Shaw’s “The Dark Lady of the Sonnets.”
The American premiere of the play featuring a Shakespeare character played for a sold-out crowd and earned raves in the News Tribune’s Social Side of Life section.
“Members of the Duluth Center of the Drama League hoped that the opening of their Little Theater would be a success,” the News Tribune reported on Nov. 18, 1914. “It was more than that. It was a triumph.”
The Little Theater, now known as the Duluth Playhouse, celebrated its 100th birthday on November 17, 2014 with staff, board members, supporters, punch, cake and cookies at the Depot.
Mayor Don Ness proclaimed it Duluth Playhouse Day in the city.
“This is really quite an accomplishment,” he said, crediting the Playhouse with being a draw to people looking to relocate to Duluth.
Playhouse Board President Herb Minke said the organization has produced more than 1,000 shows, and he thanked the community for its ongoing support.
Cornelia Dacey was part of the small celebration. Her father, Walter Dacey, played the role of the warder in the first Playhouse production.
“We always knew that he was in the first play,” she said. “It was exciting. I did plays myself and one of my sons did. (The Playhouse) is kind of ours.”
According to the News Tribune account of that first production in 1914, a blue curtain opened to reveal Walter Dacey’s character “resplendent in a gorgeous red suit as the warder … Dacey’s impersonation was perfect.”
Cornelia Dacey pointed out a picture of her father in costume from an old program.
“Handsome bloke,” she said.
An editorial from the Nov. 19, 1914, edition of the News Tribune spoke to the importance of theater.
“Every community needs just this sort of leaven to raise its own standard of amusement to create an interest in the educational and moral influence of the drama and arouse the people to the possibilities of the dramatic instinct which has been so sadly neglected in our modern system of education,” the opinion piece stated.
Jean Endrizzi became involved with the Playhouse in 1953 and said that she has held every job at the theater except treasurer.
“It was my second home,” she said.
Endrizzi couldn’t pick a favorite Playhouse production in her more than 60 years of theater-going.
“So many fine moments of drama, and the comedies …” she said. “They weren’t as professional as they are now, but they had a lot of heart.”
This article originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on November 18, 2014 and was written by columnist Christa Lawler.