A New York playwright’s reimagining of Arthurian legend premieres at a Deer Isle jelly maker’s sculpture garden.
By Will Grunewald
Since the ’90s, Peter Beerits has made found-object sculptures for the sprawling, wooded grounds of Nervous Nellie’s, the Deer Isle jelly factory/cafe/gift shop he runs with his wife, Anne. Brooklyn-based actor and writer Melody Bates first saw the place a decade ago, while performing nearby at Stonington’s Opera House Arts. Eventually, it occurred to her to craft a play for those quirky environs. “And within 30 seconds of that thought, I knew it was going to be an Arthurian legend,” Bates says. The Court of Camelot has long fascinated her — the first writing she remembers doing was a decent-for-her-age poem inspired by the famous myth (she can still recite it by heart).
Bates pitched the play, Avalon, to Opera House Arts. Now in its 20th-anniversary season, the arts org mostly hosts shows in its downtown theater, mixing in an occasional open-air show. “It’s surprising we haven’t done a collaboration with Nervous Nellie’s before,” communications director Kate Russell says. “It’s a wild place — kind of haunting and magical. In this case, Arthurian legend is so epic, should it really be contained in a theater?”
Bates’s play is literally moving — the scenes shift from site to site on the Beerits’s property while the audience follows. Beerits, who shares Bates’s fondness for legend, had already erected an Arthurian Grail Castle some 20 years ago. He had a dozen knights too, and he’s made more for the show, along with a round table, a maypole, and a three-story wizard’s tower. “I’ve always loved the Opera House plays,” he says, “but I never thought they’d have anything to do with me.”