Motherhood. Apple pie. Box Stores. Farmstands. Nannies and Niagara Falls.
What do they have in common? Aprons. Yes, aprons. How they protect us, how they tie us together and connect the generations, from great-grandparent to newborn. And this Mother’s Day season is the perfect time to see The Apron Strings Project at the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall in Riverhead, May 2–4. Inspired by a vintage apron collection that was displayed at the Suffolk Historical Museum in 2012, five local women have created a funny, heartwarming and moving theatrical production that tells the story of the people who inhabited these aprons. With original scenes, monologues and music sourced from all over the world (the furthest submission came from New Zealand) the show is a well-blended patchwork that captures the fabric of everyday life.
The idea for The Apron Strings Project came about when four women — Cindy Clifford, of The WALK Breakfast Club with Mark and Cindy fame, Suffolk Theater Marketing Director Diane Tucci, social media guru Megan Heckman and myself, playwright and freelance writer — met to discuss how to take the art installation and create a living, breathing, relevant show inspired by the over 200 aprons in Brookhaven historian Diane Schwindt’s collection.
The tale of creating and casting the show is peppered with stories of local connections. Writer Joann Kobylenski Vollmer was born in Riverhead and grew up in Calverton on a potato farm. At the suggestion of her godmother Irene Pendzick, she submitted a piece about her grandmother, Jozefa, who emigrated from Poland and started the Hampton Vegetable Stand on David Whites Lane in Southampton in the early 1900s. Pendzick and Vollmer’s mother Anelia, who will be celebrating her 90th birthday at the show, still live in Riverhead. They were founders of the Polishtown Museum and helped create Polishtown’s Annual Fair, now entering its 40th year.
Vollmer, a licensed massage therapist and herbalist who lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two daughters (both farmers) writes in her grandmother’s voice. “We were the first ones. The wealthy summering ladies came with their chauffeurs and cooks to select vegetables. They begged to come into my kitchen to sample the soups I had simmering on the stove and said they were the tastiest. For us, it was simply what we had to feed us all.” She will perform the piece in tribute to her grandmother.
“[Grandma] Jozefa died when I was 8 years old,” says Vollmer, “but she has never left me. The place where I feel her most and connect with her is when I am working in my garden.”
Jeffrey Fischer-Smith, an established playwright, also grew up in Riverhead and saw the call for submission on Facebook, submitted his short play Reservations about a couple growing old together.
“I thought it was something that had to be in the show,” says Clifford. “It was so touching.” That he was a local guy actually made it more special. And Fischer-Smith, who now resides in California, has decided to come home for the event.
“It’s so very exciting to have my play Reservations included in The Apron Strings Project—and even more exciting that this is taking place in my hometown,” he says. “I was partially inspired to write the play by my mother and father, Marilyn and Paul Fischer, who lived in Riverhead for over 50 years and were married for over 40 years. My parents developed a relationship in which each knew exactly what would make the other happy. In Reservations, I wanted to explore that exact moment when a long-standing pattern is irrevocably changed.”
The production also features The Intervention by Alison Lowenstein, whose work has been performed at the Abingdon Theater in Manhattan; a monologue by Sarah Williams, a veteran of Trinity Repertory Theater and Yale Rep; and a poem by Southold resident Anna Katsovos, a retired professor of Women’s Studies and English Literature. The cast includes numerous local performers such as Dhonna Goodale, Toni Munna, Bill Kitzerow, Michael Horn and Cate Clifford.
The Apron Strings Project is being produced as a benefit for The Retreat, an organization that works to prevent domestic abuse. Tickets can be purchased through the website apronstringsproject.com.