Joseph F. Berenato
Dramatic reading at Kramer Hall
On November 8, The Noyes Museum of Art of Stockton University presented a dramatic reading of “Golden Baby—Such a Good Boy!” at Stockton University’s Kramer Hall at 6 p.m.
“This is part of our programming for our exhibit ‘Growing American,’ which is the Alliance Agricultural Colony story on how different Jewish colonies were created in southern New Jersey in the late 1800s, focusing on agriculture,” Michael Cagno, the museum’s executive director, said.
“Golden Baby—Such a Good Boy!” was written by Felice Lewis Rovner, who was the author of A Farmer’s Daughter-Bluma, detailing the life of Bluma Bayuk Rappoport Purmell.
“She was one of the last descendants of the colony ... We have some of Bluma’s paintings here on display; she painted what she called ‘memory paintings’ when she was 90, of her time at the Alliance Colony,” Cagno said.
Before the performance, the play’s director, Lane McLeod Jackson, told the audience that “Golden Baby—Such a Good Boy!” was “a re-discovered piece.”
“Why I find that so amazing, especially amongst the artwork of the person who this is about, is that the Alliance Colony, like all colonies, was made up of people who fled under extraordinary circumstances and built a life not only for themselves but for the generations to come. They not only built a farm to feed each other, but they built a family which could support people’s talents, people’s dreams and entire new generation to this American story. What we’ve got is a direct touch of that power—the power of family and the power of love—and this piece deals with the broken-heartedness that can come when sacrifices are made,” McLeod Jackson said.
The performance itself was a minimalist reading consisting of the four actors—Alec Battaglia as Moishe, Lea Barone as Annette, Hayden Garrity as Bluma and Paul Nicolaro as Moses—telling the story of Annette’s escape from an overbearing husband in Russia and her 40-year struggle to bring her oldest child, Moishe—the “Golden Baby”—to the United States.
Following the audience, McLeod Jackson participated in a Q&A with the audience.
“Bluma herself had this incredible life. We only got some of this in here. Annette lived in New York for a year, and that’s where she met Moses, who helped found the Alliance Colony. Bluma met Felice in her late 70s, early 80s and she proceeded to make this,” McLeod Jackson said.
Among the audience members was Bill Rovner, the author’s son.
“Bluma was my grandmother’s best friend. They lived at the Warwick Apartments in Atlantic City on Valley Avenue ... Bluma started telling her stories. What you may not know about Bluma is, the artwork behind me and down the hall, Bluma was going blind, but she painted them from memory and made these wonderful memory paintings—and she died at the age of 108 in Philadelphia. My mom wrote the book with Bluma. It parallels what you saw and heard today,” Rovner said.
Dr. Thomas Kinsella, the director of the Alliance Heritage Center, said that Stockton University has been allowed to preserve a range of materials from the Alliance Agricultural Colony.
“Bluma’s grandson and granddaughter donated a range of materials related to Bluma, the writing of her book. Looking through that at one point, I came across a typed script, one-act play by Felice Rovner, and I knew who that was. I called Bill and said, ‘Hey, we found something; would you mind if we tried to get this thing acted by a fine acting troupe?’ My research fellow, Kelly Burns, read the play and agreed that it was a good play. We brought it to the dean, Lisa Honaker, who brought it to this group here. This is an example: you preserve a little piece of history—a piece of paper—and it ends up in the right hands and it can be very moving,” Kinsella said.
Dr. Lisa Honaker, the dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Stockton University, said that the journey for “Golden Baby—Such a Good Boy!” is far from over.
“The plan is not just to end it here, but to do a production of the play and videotape it over our winter break in our experimental theater so that this play will live. We are taping it so it will continue to live,” Honaker said.
Watch the dramatic stage reading below: