First-time playwright touches historyTravel back to a time when Roth Bros. was right across the street during the Douglas County Historical Society’s History Theatre production, “You’ll Find it at Roth’s.”
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Travel back to a time when Roth Bros. was right across the street during the Douglas County Historical Society’s History Theatre production, “You’ll Find it at Roth’s.”
The original play by Teddie Meronek runs this weekend at the Douglas County Historical Society.
“I want people to have fun and I think to remember Roth Brothers,” said Meronek, local history librarian for the Superior Public Library. “I think it was a big part of Superior for many years and people have such great memories of it.”
The department store, which included an elevator to take patrons to all four levels, was part of Superior’s business landscape from 1889 to 1977.
The play is set on Thanksgiving 1943. The story centers around Ruth, the store’s head of advertising. She and longtime beau Alfred have been “going together” for 20 years. While she’s busy with holiday ad layouts for the Telegram, Alfred returns on leave from the war with big news. The story includes a traveling turkey, shop window slapstick and a host of eccentric neighbors. Director Kim Collins said it plays like a screwball comedy from the 1940s.
Although she’s written two books and penned many articles, writing a play was the hardest thing Meronek has tackled to date. It took two years to write, and went through more changes after the first read-through.
“Rewriting was the worst,” Meronek said. “I would do anything not to write. I would go home and clean just so I didn’t have to rewrite … it was almost impossible for me.”
The best moment for the author was when the cast sat down to read the play for the first time.
“It was scary but it was just a thrill to hear it,” she said. “Two years of work finally coming to fruition.”
And, she said, they were laughing as they read.
“It’s funny,” said Kathy McDonald, who plays the role of Ruth’s nosy neighbor, LaVerne.
Meronek’s sense of humor is apparent in “You’ll Find it at Roth’s,” said Kathy Laakso, who plays Ruth.
“What I love so much about the play is her character development,” she said. “These are real people who do the things they do because of who they basically are as human beings. Whether or not you grew up here
the characters will be someone you know or knew.”
The references to landmarks in town and the authenticity, which came from careful research, will delight those who did grow up here, Laakso said.
The DCHS director has written a number of historical plays herself, including “The Strike,” based on a 1913 ore dock strike by Finnish workers and “Strike for Dickie! The People vs. the Board of Education.”
Laakso’s successful plays and a pair of playwriting workshops sponsored by the Duluth Superior Community Foundation inspired Meronek to try her hand at writing one. And Laakso’s theater background and honest critiques were crucial to the development of “You’ll Find it at Roth’s.”
“I couldn’t have written it without her,” Meronek said.
She credits her cast for bringing the story to life. The ensemble includes Jen Dobbins, Ellie Martin, Richard Thomas, Jane Wester-Treakle, Jim Paine, John Center, Kathy Kadlecek and Jennie Ross.
Even though she handed off the script weeks ago, Meronek has been busy finding set pieces, painting scenery and cooking up hors d’oeuvres for the performances.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” she said. Although she’s helped with performances before, the playwright didn’t realize just how much work went into staging a play. She also learned something about the availability of actors.
“We really had a hard time finding middle-aged men to act in this play,” Meronek said. “They’re just not out there.”
So she ended up having to change one male part to a female character.
Funding from the Duluth Superior Community Foundation helped create the History Theatre, which puts on two plays and a USO canteen show every year.
“We’re so lucky to have the foundation here in our region because it supports so many important art, history and cultural projects,” Laakso said.
There is a wealth of historical stories to tell in this region, she said.
“My hope is that we can continue to draw more playwrights, whether experienced or those just starting out,” Laakso said. “I think Teddie proves what I truly believe, that you don’t know if you can do something unless you try.”
The play takes center stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday at 1101 John Ave. Doors open an hour before the show. Advanced tickets at $10 are available until 2 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $12 at the door. For more information call (715) 392-8449.
All proceeds benefit the historical society’s mission.