A Dramatic Presentation of the Early History of the Eastern Shore of Virginia At The Palace Theatre In Cape Charles, VA


by: Davidk@esva.net email

Chief Debedeavon and his tribal warriors appeal to the heavens

Demonstrating the incredible strength of our volunteer spirit here on Virginia’s  Eastern Shore, members of our community, including myself,  came together this November, 2012, for the production of “Piece of Eden” in the historic Palace Theater in downtown Cape Charles, Virginia.Written by long-time resident of our town,  Jean Collins,  and adapted for the stage by our very talented Sheila Cardano, this epic musical drama reenacts the significant events and politics of the 17th and 18th centuries which  not only are the foundations of our country but also the basic principles of  American liberty and democracy. Few people realize the importance of the Eastern Shore of Virginia in not only providing sustenance for the early Jamestown Colony but also the Eastern Shore’s role in saving that colony from annihilation by the Powhatan Native American tribes in the massacre of 1622.  If truth be told, Jamestown would have been wiped off the face of the earth if the “Laughing King” of the Eastern Shore, Indian chief Debedeavon, had not warned the colonists of the western shore of Chief Powhatan’s plan to poison their wells and attack their settlement. The Eastern Shore’s Indian chief’s timely and courageous action prevented the massacre from achieving its objective of killing all 1100 settlers; as it was,  more than 350 were murdered during the massacre but Jamestown survived as the capital of Virginia. Who can begin to speculate about our nation’s history if the Jamestown settlement had been completely wiped out?

Stephen Charlton leads the settlers in the first protest against unfair taxation.

Piece of Eden” also portrays the peoples who made important contributions to our early history, especially the Native Americans. Living amongst us today in our community are the descendants of the Indians and the early colonists who shaped the foundation of our nation. Names like Opecancanough, Fox, Custis, Savage, and Charlton as well as the Indian tribes, Machipongo and Occohannock,  who inhabited the Eastern Shore before the arrival of the colonists, are threaded throughout the play. Authentic costumes worn by the actors and the lively portrayal of  the cultural life of early colonial times effectively bring to life the characters who made history here on the Shore.  Portrayed on stage is a portion of  the very first play acted on American soil in our town of Pungoteague titled “Ye Bear and Ye Cub”.   “Piece of Eden“  also incorporates scenes from  historic meetings of the colonists with the Indians including the spreading of the small pox disease,  the timely warning of the impending Jamestown massacre, the flight of  Virginia’s early governor from Jamestown to the Custis family estate of Arlington  during Bacon’s Rebellion, Northampton County’s letter of grievances which was the very first protest in the colonies against taxation without representation  and the reading of the Declaration of Independence from the courthouse steps in Eastville in 1776.  And lo, these many years later, Eastville is still the Northampton County seat.

The Declaration of Independence is read from the Northampton courthouse steps on August 13, 1776.

Over the week of November 15-20, 2012, our enthusiastic cast and crew played five performances of “Piece of Eden” to interested  and appreciative audiences. Our last performance was held at 9:30am to accommodate all of the  fourth grade students in the County as they   are now studying Virginia history in their classrooms. The actors were able to greet the audience members after each performance and I heard many wonderful comments, such as ”I never realized how important the history of the Eastern Shore is to the founding of America.” When one considers the impacts of such an enormous production, it is astounding to think of the educational, social, economic and cultural benefits that accrue to our community. Who knows what impressionable children may gather from seeing this spectacular and educational play?  Or what decisions a new visitor to our area may make when they see such creativity and cohesiveness demonstrated by the members of our community?  The Palace Theater,  owned and operated by our own Arts Enter Cape Charles,  is undoubtedly a most important resource to our community and well deserves the  generous support it receives.

A proud and grateful cast takes their bow!

If you’ve never been involved in a little theatre group it is not easy to appreciate what goes into a production of this magnitude, especially for a non-profit entity as Arts Enter Cape Charles. Approximately 3600 hours were dedicated by more than sixty individuals to write this original play and it’s music,  perform original musical scores, design and build elaborate sets, operate audio and lighting programs and fixtures, design and sew dozens of the amazing period costumes and rehearse the many scenes performed by actors of all ages from five to seventy-five years.  And the support of family and friends in time, effort and funding was crucial as well. Such spirit of generosity and involvement really is a big part of what makes our small but vibrant community so special. Only in a small town like Cape Charles can  amateur actors  such as myself  realize their dream of acting on the live stage when their lack of  professional talent and experience would preclude such an opportunity in a large metropolitan area’s  drama groups.  I am enormously grateful to have that opportunity  and am especially appreciative of  being able to join the company of  fellow thespians,  enthusiastic individuals who hail from all over the country and who so generously give of their time and energy, enabling   productions  such as “Piece of Eden“  to become a reality.

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