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Pictured from left are: Kelly Kucharski of St. Clair Shores, who portrays Virginia Moran St. Aubin; Jerry Nehr of Grosse Pointe Woods, portraying Edmund Vernier; Anna Wendt of St. Clair Shores plays as Mary Neff; and Kevin Fitzhenry of Warren plays George Neff. Olympus Digital Camera Photos by Dale Pegg

October 04, 2012
Carrying on a conversation is normally done between living beings. Inanimate objects, such as headstones, don’t come to mind when planning a conversation.Put that thought to rest.Grosse Pointe Theatre and the Grosse Pointe Historical Society members have been talking to each other and creating stories of long dead people with grave markers in St. Paul’s Cemetery on Moross Road in Grosse Pointe Farms.Local actors bring a few of Grosse Pointe’s forefathers (and mothers) from the 1890s to 1930s to life Oct. 11 through 14 in the fifth annual Talking Headstones.Talking Headstones is an outdoor stage production of fictional vignettes portraying historical Grosse Pointe people. Attendees may recognize many of the characters’ names from the streets and institutions named after them. Other characters are based on the personal family history of a writer. “Talking Headstones was created to give the community a venue to learn Grosse Pointe’s history in a unique and different setting,” said Izzy Donally, the historical society’s director of education.“This collaboration between GPHS and GPT is a wonderful opportunity where each group is able to work together and contribute their areas of expertise to create this unique event,” she said.Beginning a year in advance, the two groups combine their expertise. Both volunteers and professionals from the theater write the scripts after scouring local archives. The costumes and stage are supplied by the theater.According to director Harry Burkey, “each year writers from GPT visit the historical society to view research for a specific time period. It is a collaborative effort with most of the character development rising from a writer’s mind, as very little dialogue can be found from many years ago.“We can use the faded photos to match the clothing of the day and create dramatic scenes. This is bringing history to life and that is the mission of Grosse Pointe Theatre and the Grosse Pointe Historical Society with ‘Talking Headstones.’”This year’s program begins with the narrative, “Roadhouse.” “Edmund Vernier introduces various characters,” Burkey explained, “and stories throughout the production. It was written by Peter DiSante.”He also wrote two other pieces, “New Church” about Pauline Vernier Van Antwerp and her daughter, Catherine Van Antwerp Kerby; and “The Interview” about Father John Elsen, minister at St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church in the 1890s.Additionally there are seven vignettes, each three to six minutes.Vignettes include:Reno/Renaud by Dennis Wickline of St. Clair Shores. It is about Benjamin Renaud’s encounter with his descendant Antoine Reno.Fall of Detroit is about the Moran family during the War of 1812 written by Dianne Pegg.Temperance features Charles Moran Jr. and Virginia Moran St. Aubin, also written by Dianne Pegg.Back to Back by Mary Lou Britton of St. Clair Shores is a vignette about Louis and Theresa Allard.Letters by Kim Carey is about George and Mary Neff.Remembering was written by Gwenn Samuel and spotlights Catherine Peltier Beaufait and Louis Beaufait.Tenant Farm Family was penned by Kathy Conlon of St. Clair Shores who wrote about her ancestors, Elodie, Emma and Mary (Houtteman) Boone.The performance begins at dusk, as it has since its beginning in 2008.The theater’s president, at the time, Kathy Conlon met with the historical society staff to lay the ground work for production, Burkey said.“She partnered with professional actress Mary L. Pettit to gather a group of playwrights and provide a historical vision for an audience by having actors represent Grosse Pointers buried in St. Paul Cemetery.”Year after year, Talking Headstones has been a sell out providing attendees with a snapshot of local historical figures.“We live in an evolving society wherein members migrate away from their native area,” Burkey said. “This causes disintegration of a solid society and a loss of connection to a birth area. “There needs to be more connective activities to strengthen one’s heritage which might lessen the disintegration and bring about more solidity in community.“Talking Headstones is one type of activity that enables society members to reconnect to their heritage. “The most vivid method of learning comes when vision and hearing take place together. One can read about a heritage in a book, but to actually see a visual production that includes people, places and events that takes place in one’s own backyard is indeed a great way for community members to reconnect and instill a greater love of heritage.”ActorsGrosse Pointe Woods residents include: Jerry Nehr as Edmund Vernier and Patricia Stewart as Catherine Beaufait.Grosse Pointe Farms residents include: Sydney Anderson as Elodie Boone; Catharine Fennessey as Genevieve Vernier; Jack Fennessey as Louis Beaufait and Victor Vernier; and Mary Stelmark as Theresa Allard.Grosse Pointe Park residents include: Perry Calisi as Father Elsen; John Diebel as Louis Allard; Ben Holochwost as Joseph Moran and Remi Young; Phelan Johnson as Phelice Moran; Elizabeth Schaefer as Catherine Moran and Pauline Van Antwerp; and Claire Zimmeth as Emma Boone.St. Clair Shores residents include: Kelly Kucharski as Virginia Moran and Catherine Kerby, Anna Wendt as Mary Neff and Diane Wendt as Mary Boone; Clinton Township resident Sal Rubino as Antoine Reno and Charles Moran; Detroit resident Clif Levin as Benjamin Renaud; and Warren resident Kevin Fitzhenry as George Neff.

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