Merrimack Repertory Theatre Blog

October 15, 2013, 2:48 pm
Filed under: Merrimack Repertory Theatre

After a strong and successful run, God of Carnage has closed and we being to prepare our next production, Mrs. Mannerly. The play takes place during 1967, a time for major changes in society. Director Mark Shanahan took the time to write up a commentary on the year 1967, and how it affected the story of Mrs. Mannerly. Read the commentary below:


Nearly 100,000 people march on Washington to protest the Vietnam war.

The Beatles release their Magical Mystery Tour.

A fire derails the launch of Apollo 1 , taking the lives of three astronauts.

The first Super Bowl is played between The Green Bay Packers and The Kansas City Chiefs.

Muhammad Ali is stripped of his boxing title for refusing military service.

An aging Mickey Mantle is moved from center field to first base.

Thurgood Marshall is nominated the first African American justice of The Supreme Court.

Sean Connery is James Bond in You Only Live Twice and Dustin Hoffman is The Graduate.

We often remember the past as a “simpler era,” but 1967 saw our country suffering an identity crisis at a complicated moment of change and growth. The social mores of the past had given way to a decade of political upheaval, generational rifts and the counter culture movement.
Amidst this era’s colorful backdrop, Jeffrey Hatcher offers us his sweetly nostalgic play, Mrs. Mannerly, recalling his own personal moment of change and growth during his boyhood in Steubenville, Ohio.

Mr. Hatcher’s recollections of 1967 Steubenville paint a picture of a town which wasn’t necessarily hospitable for a young man destined to become a successful and celebrated writer for stage and screen. But, clearly his childhood memories offer a treasure trove of characters and and details which have enriched his artistic pursuits. The play recounts the unlikely friendship Hatcher, as a ten year old, forged with Helen Anderson Kirk, the teacher who conducted the “manners class” offered at the local YMCA. Nestled among the “great Steubenvillians of old, Dean Martin, Edwin Stanton and Jimmy The Greek,” Mr. Hatcher introduces us to a mysterious and wonderful lady, a figure who, in the author’s memory, stood larger than life.

Mrs. Kirk, also known as Mrs. Mannerly, was already an anachronism in 1967, a woman of a bygone era who considered her manners class “a calling, a service the families of Steubenville needed, more than they knew!” In an era of rock and roll, the civil rights movement, draft cards, women’s liberation and shocking political assassinations, Mrs. Mannerly’s class covered the basics of tea service, formal silver settings and the recitation of verse. And yet, while important social issues had finally come to the fore during the 1960s, perhaps Mrs. Mannerly’s class addressed certain lessons which remain equally important to this day and should not be forgotten.

To some, the proper teaching of etiquette might be looked upon as a snobbish means to understanding the difference between a salad fork and a desert fork. But manners, it may be said, speak to a larger need for civility. Mrs. Mannerly’s own personal hero, the esteemed authority on all things proper, Emily Post, laid down her first book on manners in 1922, entitled simply, “Etiquette.” Though Mrs. Post has been called a “daughter of The Gilded Age,” her writing was far more concerned with the practicalities of modern life. Her interests lay in helping those from all walks of life achieve order in a chaotic world.

In the first edition, Mrs. Post addressed issues of propriety for the ordinary person wishing to uphold the standards of good manners. Truly, Mrs. Post believed that manners should not be afforded only to those of wealth and privilege. “Manner is personality,” she wrote. “It is the outward manifestation of one’s innate character and attitude toward life.” Amidst hard-fast rules on place settings and thousands of tips on party planning, social conduct, correspondence and sportsmanship, she taught the basic dignity of correct comportment, believing that what was “socially right was what was socially simple and unaffected.”

Emily Post died in 1960, on the doorstep of the decade about which Mr. Hatcher writes. But Mrs. Post’s books have remained in print. The current edition, the 18th, has been updated by her great grandchildren. It includes advice for the modern reader on using one’s smartphone politely, managing social networking with civility, the appropriateness of tattoos and technology in the workplace and the often confusing practices of dating in the virtual world. In this era where common-sense rules of behavior often seem murky, drowned out by shouting matches on television talk shows and politicians who tweet compromising photographs, perhaps we might all crave a refresher course on the ground rules of basic civility. The world has changed a lot since the days of women like Emily Post and her loyal follower, Mrs. Mannerly, but the need good manners remains the same, if not more necessary than ever. To paraphrase a song made famous in 1967 by The Graduate: “Where have you gone, Mrs. Mannerly?”

Finally, I’d like to offer a quick personal anecdote. In 1997, thirty years after Jeffrey Hatcher’s manners class concluded, I met our playwright while performing a lead role in his hysterically funny comedy “One Foot On The Floor” at the Denver Center Theatre. I was a young actor and Jeff seemed to me a serious and imposing figure, pacing in the back rows of the theatre during rehearsals and handing out new pages each day. I was desperate to please him and thrilled when Jeff finally cracked a laugh at one of my big moments. I can still remember that chortle from the back row.

On Opening Night, I found a note from our author, neatly printed and folded in an envelope atop my dressing room table. “Mark, We’re lucky to have you in the play. I’ve tried to write you some good lines and I think you’re very funny in the role. Thank you for all of your hard work. Best, Jeff.” It meant a great deal to me. I still have his note in a drawer at home. It’s a reminder that, in any era, good manners never go out of style.

Perhaps Mr. Hatcher penned this play as a belated thank you note to a teacher who, in some small way, helped shaped the course of his life. If so, it is a beautifully written, remarkably gracious and heartfelt thank you note. And it speaks very highly of his manners, since a thank you note is always appreciated. Mrs Mannerly would be proud of her student.

We thank you for coming to MRT and we hope you enjoy your trip back to 1967 with Mrs. Mannerly.

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