I was surprised and excited to stumble across this mention of my version of “The Bear and the Cub” in a textbook: Freedom of Speech: Reflections in Art and Popular Culture, by Patricia L. Dooley
This article ran in USA Today in 2015. I wrote the play in 2007.
Accomack: ‘Bear and Cub’ still a hit after 350 years
Accomack: ‘Bear and Cub’ still a hit after 350 years
The North Street Playhouse performs “The Bare and the Cubbe” near the site of the original play, which was performed in Pungoteague, Virginia in 1665. Produced by Carol Vaughn and Jay Diem
Think of it as the revival of an old hit — 350 years old, to be exact.
An enthusiastic audience gathered in the waning sunshine Thursday afternoon on the lawn of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Pungoteague, Virginia to watch actors from Onancock’s North Street Playhouse perform “The Bare & the Cubbe,” a three-act play based on the earliest known English-language play performed in the New World.
It was 350 years to the day after the first performance.
That one — staged at a Pungoteague tavern on Sunday, Aug. 27, 1665 — got the actors in trouble, earning them an entry in the county court records.
But the latter-day performance earned nothing but accolades.
“It was a marvelous performance — I’ve been waiting to see it. Today is a wonderful day, with the weather perfect, and the performers were wonderful,” said Bob Behr, a member of the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
North Street Playhouse Artistic Director Terry Bliss concurred, saying after the applause had finally died down, “I just couldn’t stop smiling. It just goes down so many layers — I’m overwhelmed.”
Staged between two ancient sycamore trees, with a curtain strung between them to hide the backstage, it was the first outdoor performance for most members of the all-volunteer cast.
“They rose to the challenge,” Bliss said.
The reason we know about the original play at all is because Edward Martin — an Accomack County resident thought to be a Quaker — brought a complaint against the actors, Cornelius Watkinson, Phillip Howard and William Darby, in court.
The play’s first mention dates to Nov. 16, 1665, when Accomack County court records give the title and the actors’ names, along with a judge’s order that it be performed again at the next session of court.
Darby, the playwright, was to be arrested and held, while Watkinson and Howard were to be detained “until they put in security to perform this order.”
The play was said to have been performed at Fowkes Tavern in Pungoteague, which also served in those days as the location where court was held.
The tavern, which no longer stands, was not far from St. George’s church — that’s why the playhouse decided to put on the anniversary performance there.
The 17th century judge after seeing the performance found the men not guilty of the unspecified charges against them, according to a January 16, 1666 entry in the court records.
Based on those scant facts, a tradition arose and has persisted among Eastern Shore of Virginia residents as to the play’s content, with the general agreement being it likely had a political tone.
With no script surviving, Eastern Shore of Virginia native Cartland Berge, who was active in North Street Playhouse as a teenager, was commissioned to write a new one as part of the Jamestown 400th anniversary celebration in 2007.
Berge’s interpretation is a play within a play, with lots of humor including jokes about bad beer and a feisty barmaid. In it, he tells the story of how the original came to be, including its two performances at the tavern.
“I’m taking the idea that it’s a revolutionary play. England is the bear and the colonies the cub — it’s meant to incite revolution,” Berge said at the time.
The interpretation makes sense in light of actions by King Charles II’s regime toward the colonists during that period, according to scholar Joel Eis, who wrote a 2004 treatise about “The Bare and the Cubbe” called “A Full Investigation of the Historic Performance of the First Play in English in the New World.”
“In the 1660s there was the profound and pervasive rancor toward the British government felt by this colonial enclave as a whole,” Eis wrote, adding, “The Trade Laws passed in the early 1660s, requiring nearly monopolistic trade only with England and mostly in English ships with English crews, was pointed most specifically at the Eastern Shore of Virginia…When the play took place in 1665, bitterness against absentee rule had grown strong throughout much of the settlement on the Eastern Shore.”
Berge, a 2001 graduate of Nandua High School, first heard about ‘The Bare and the Cubbe’ from high school history teacher Dennis Custis and wrote a paper about the play in college, using Eis’ book as a source.
When Bliss sent out the proposal for a new script to playwrights, Berge, who by then was living in New York City, didn’t want to have an unfair advantage because of his long association with North Street Playhouse.
So he wrote the play, his first full-length script, under the alias Howard Studgy — a name taken from one of the early Eastern Shore colonists Eis mentioned in his book.
Berge’s script was chosen from among a half dozen entries — although Bliss almost dismissed it because she didn’t know anything about Studgy and because he lived way up in New York. But everyone she gave the scripts to agreed his was the best interpretation.
“It was funny and it had a modern sensibility about it,” Bliss said.
The play was performed in 2007 and again last spring at North Street Playhouse.
With the 350th anniversary approaching, it was decided to put on one more performance — this time a free one held outdoors near the original site.
Bliss said the 2015 cast, including everyone from a recent high school graduate to retirees to a General District court judge, reflects a cross-section of society similar to those who were involved in the original court case.
“It is very satisfying and makes me very proud that our cast reflects what the early cast was,” she said.
I was interviewed about the Convergence Center (the building I manage at UMW) for a student project, and this is what I said:
I made this video one day when UMW was closed for spring break. It’s about the place where I work, which is a pretty cool place.
A brief story from 2008:
I was sitting in Union Square, idly eating lunch with a group of about six other people, when a young man suddenly approached me.
“Excuse me,” he said. “Are you Jewish?”
“No,” I replied, truthfully.
“Oh,” he said, disappointed but not disheartened; he had a plan for just such a scenario. “Here’s a picture of a smiling Rabbi.”
“Ah,” I said. “Thank you.”
He smiled. “Have a great day,” he said.
And then he was gone.
This is a story about the peculiar magnetic properties of a man knitting on the subway in New York City. I wrote this in 2007, shortly after it happened.
After visiting my parents in Virginia over Christmas, I took a Greyhound back to New York. As soon as I got off the bus in the city, before I even went home to drop off my stuff, I met up with my friends Seth and Aubrey who were visiting the city for the holidays and staying at a Comfort Inn in Chelsea. We had dinner and hung out at their hotel for a while, and I didn’t end up leaving until about midnight. I hauled all my stuff several blocks to the subway, and then sat down to wait for the train. I pulled out my knitting to pass the time.
As I was knitting there, I thought, “You know, I bet someone’s going to come talk to me.” For some reason, people often do when I’m knitting on the subway. Sure enough, before too long a guy sits down next to me and starts talking to me about knitting. He watches me struggle for a while, and then offers to show me some tips. I pass him the needles, and then the train arrives, so I gather all of my baggage and get on, the guy following behind with the knitting. We sit, and he continues to demonstrate a few knitting tricks, and I’m thinking, “Man, this guy is so friendly and helpful,” and then suddenly he says, “So, have you ever slept with a man?”
“You are straight, right?”
Knit, knit, knit.
“Have you ever thought about having sex with a man?”
This is about when I started laughing, which he seemed to take as a good sign.
“Do you want to give it a try?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
This would have been a perfect opportunity for me to lie.
“Oh. I think you’re very sexy.”
“Sometimes, with a man, it’s less spiritual than with a woman. More physical.”
“Do you masturbate?”
“It’s sort of like masturbating with a friend.”
“Oh…Do you know how to purl?”
His attention diverted for the moment, he spends the next few minutes showing me how to purl, and then hands the needles to me to try for myself. I already basically know how to purl, but he finds plenty to correct me on anyway. Eventually we get to his stop, just a few before mine.
“This is my stop. You can come over if you want?”
“No…no, thank you.”
He smiles and offers his hand, ostensibly to shake. I’m dubious, but I decide that a firm, masculine handshake might sort of drive the whole “I’m straight” thing home. As soon as he takes my hand, he places his other hand on top of mine, looks deep into my eyes, and says, “You give me a hard on.”
He then turns and walks off the subway.
I’m just glad I wasn’t using my BIG needles.
I worked a late event tonight, and ended up leaving campus at about 9:45. I had eaten an early dinner, so I was already starting to fantasize about my bedtime bowl of cereal as I started the drive home. We were just getting to the good part when I was struck by a terrible realization: I was completely out of milk.
This could not stand.
Fortunately, there is a Weis between work and my house. I pulled into the parking lot shortly before 10pm, and noted that the store closed at 11. I grabbed a single canvas grocery bag out of the trunk, intending to use it both as shopping basket and grocery bag. I had a specific mission, so this seemed like a reasonable plan.
But it is my habit, even on tactical, targeted grocery strikes, to briefly peruse the produce section before moving on to my main purpose. Often I’m smitten by a powerful nectarine lineup, or a bin overflowing with fresh ears of corn, and pause to pick up a few items to diversify my cereal-heavy portfolio. Tonight I was surprised to see, prominently featured at the main entrance, an impressive display of whole pineapples. And affixed to the display, a sign:
Golden Pineapples – $3.99
Buy One Get One Free
Save $4 on 2!
Deal good thru 9/13
This was clearly a trap.
I have never in my life bought a whole pineapple. I’m not sure how to carve one. Do you even say “carve” for a pineapple? I have on occasion struggled, and ultimately failed, to finish small containers of cut pineapple before they go bad. The deal was expiring today; this was clearly old pineapple, priced to move. Bad investment. Move along.
I put two pineapples in my bag.
I proceeded to grab a gallon of milk, and, as an afterthought, a large tin of Chock Full o’ Nuts (also on sale).
Milk, coffee, and two pineapples. Best to act like nothing was out of the ordinary. I do this all the time.
Only one register was open, but it was available with no line. The cashier beckoned me forward. No turning back now.
I hurried to empty my canvas bag in time to hand it to the cashier for bagging. She was quick, already moving to place my coffee in a disposable bag. Fortunately, she was slowed by the presence of an unexpected item already in the bag.
“Oh,” she said. “That gentleman forgot his trash bags.”
“I have a bag,” I said.
“He’s gonna miss those,” she said, removing the trash bags and proceeding to place my coffee in the now-empty plastic bag. “He’ll be back.”
“I have a bag,” I said.
“Oh, there he is!” The prior shopper returned to reclaim his trash bags, and the cashier went on to place my milk in another plastic bag.
“I have a bag,” I said. I felt this was not getting the attention it deserved.
“Oh, you have a bag!” she said, finally coming around. “Do you want your milk in there? It’s wet.”
“Are you sure? It’s wet.”
“I think it will be okay.”
“Okaaay,” she said, with an intonation that made it clear she did not see how this could possibly be okay. “I’m just trying to tell you, it’s wet.”
She turned back to the conveyor belt, and noticed the pineapples for the first time. By now, a line had started to form behind them.
The cashier turned back to me. “Are those your pineapples?”
Shit. Be cool.
“Do you want THOSE in the bag?”
At this point it seemed to me that we had spent entirely too much time on bags.
“Um, yes?” Decisive.
“Okaaay,” she said again. “I’ll let you do it how you want it.”
I bagged the pineapples.
She proceeded to ring me up, and I performed the sacred rites of commerce, laying my plastic totem upon the holy altar. The gods smiled upon our transaction, and it was approved. My finger hovered over the green OKAY button. I was almost home free.
But…something was wrong.
I had glanced at the checkout screen, and noticed that the pineapple deal had rung up incorrectly. Weis was only offering me $1 off per pineapple, when I had been promised $4 off on two.
Behind me, the 10 o’clock grocery line crowd was getting restless. The green, spikey fronds of my twin bromeliads were jutting out of the bag for all to see.This was only a difference of two dollars. I have to LIVE in this town. I needed to get out of here before people started to talk. Just bite the bullet and go.
“Um, something’s wrong,” I said, cursing on the inside. “The pineapples are supposed to be buy one get one free.”
The cashier grabbed the microphone on her register. “I need a price check,” she announced to the store, graciously omitting the identity of the objects in question. A manager appeared.
“What’s the problem?” he asked. As the cashier explained the situation, the man grabbed one of my pineapples and headed briskly towards the produce section.
I gave the growing line a “sorry and also these aren’t for me they are for a friend, ha ha” shrug, and then turned to see the manager finishing a complete circuit of the produce section, having failed to find the pineapple display. I walked over to help.
“Right here,” I said, and read the sign aloud. “Golden Pineapples – $3.99. Buy one get one free. Save $4 on 2!”
He came over to see for himself. He stared at the sign for longer than I felt was necessary.
He walked around to the back of the display, looked it up and down. Shook his head.
“Yeah, looks good,” he finally admitted. “Ring it up as a store coupon.”
“Should I tell people it’s good,” said the cashier, “if someone else asks?”
Like there is ANOTHER depraved pineapple bargain shopper roaming the streets at 10 o’clock at night.
“Yeah,” said the manager, clearly ready to move on. “It’s good.”
Buttons were pressed, prices recalculated, and I once again supplicated before the altar, this time mashing OKAY as soon as the opportunity was presented.
“Thanks,” said the cashier, tearing off a receipt far too long for four items. “Have a nice night.”
I fled the Weis, and drove the rest of the way home. Milk safely in the fridge and pineapples on the kitchen table, I took a moment to review the receipt.
PINEAPPLE, read the first line: $3.99. On the next line was a discount: -$1. The cashier had never removed the incorrect discount that had started this whole mess.
On the line below, another discount: -$3.99. But, there was no second pineapple! She had removed one of the pineapples, AND given me a store coupon for the cost of one pineapple. With the $1 discount, I was now one whole dollar (and two pineapples) AHEAD.
Today, the grocery store paid me to buy their pineapples.