Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Night at the Theatre

Lake Worth Playhouse circa 1924
     Last Saturday, I was invited to see a  staged reading at the Lake Worth Playhouse. Since I'd never been there and my friend highly recommended the event, I headed down to Lake Avenue in Lake Worth.

     I parked a couple of streets away and walked to the Playhouse. I didn't know anything about the venue, but sat fascinated with the woodwork and stucco as I waited for the event to start. The Lake Worth Playhouse was built in 1924 by Lucien and Clarence Oakley, brothers who moved to Florida from Illinois and wanted to build a movie and vaudeville venue.

    The Lake Worth Playhouse website says that the Playhouse was built at a cost of $150,000, an astounding amount in those days. It was considered opulent for the time and included a $10,000 Wurlitzer pipe organ with a built-in piano.

     Destroyed in the 1928 hurricane that wreaked havoc on all of South Florida, it was rebuilt just in time for the Depression. It went through several owners and forms of entertainment before winding down and shutting its doors.  In 1953, it was reopened by a group of Lake Worth citizens but it wasn't until 1975 that it was renovated and re-opened with a "never-be-dark" policy that led to a steady stream of events.

Lake Worth Playhouse Interior
     The staged reading I saw was "Broken Angels," based on the true story of Carrie Buck (who died in the 1983) and the infamous Buck v. Bell case which went all the way to the Supreme Court. Written by Tod Castor (who also participated on the stage), it tells the story of a young pregnant woman who is sent to the Lynchburg Colony for the Feebleminded for the unfortunate sin of being unwed and pregnant. It was a powerful piece and made even more powerful by the narrative at the end. 

     Sadly, just this week, I saw a headline about the state of North Carolina looking to compensate individuals who, until 1974, were sterilized without their consent. North Carolina was only one of thirty-one states who participated in a eugenics program and Virginia sterilized 8,000 people before the program was stopped. The combined thirty-one programs resulted in tens of thousands of sterilizations. Tens of thousands.

     Sitting in the old theatre watching  actors in period clothing act the powerful lines Tim Caster wrote, it was easy to forget that this is 2011. The heartache and injustice suffered by Carrie Buck, labeled feebleminded when she was not and denied the opportunity to bear children forever, followed by the news story out of North Carolina, is a grim reminder that evil is never left behind. It silently sits and waits for the right opportunity, the right time, to rear its ugly head again. 
Carrie Buck in 1924 Photo, Click for full size
Carrie Buck in 1924
by A.E. Estabrook


  1. Very powerful message. I'd have loved to see this.

  2. Very powerful message indeed. At the moment I'm reading 'The Warmth of Other Suns' ~ a nonfiction book about the migration of blacks from the South to the North and when I saw that article about North Carolina I was stunned. I never knew half the things written about in the book and that there was such a thing as eugenics. It appalled me and saddened me that someone, somewhere, thought they had the authority to make those judgements on someone else's life.

    Perhaps the reminder isn't that evil is never left behind, but that we can do better. We can remember the evil that once was allowed to flourish and banish it from our present and future. I truly, deeply, hope so.