Watermelon Hill at History Theatre
Reviewed by Christopher G. Bremicker
Writing this play must have been an act of love. Reviewing it was. Many people in the audience were in their sixties. I wondered how many of us were touched by teenaged pregnancy, cowardly boyfriends, and the loss that occurred when the baby was given up for adoption.
Wonderfully acted, three young women bet “gut bombs” from White Castle on whose baby would come first. Placed in a home in St. Paul for unwed mothers, they fought the times when such situations were swept under the rug. The girls had gone astray, in the view of the world.
These days, childbirth out of wedlock is common and often a valid option for raising a child. In the time of the play, it was unheard of. The girls vanished from their families with excuses like they were away at school or visiting a friend in Florida.
The staging was clever. The girls roomed together. Their beds were sections of the raised, thrust stage, under which were drawers that held blankets, coats, and a radio. A church was stained glass projected onto the back stage wall. Their lives were revealed by means of flashbacks and forwards. They alternated between the time when their parents first learned of their condition to the day they found their grown child, lost themselves in the vice of a casino, or started another family.
A social worker interviewed them and guaranteed their babies would go to the very best families she could find. They would have a good future, she assured the girls, better than they could provide themselves. This was true because in those days there were no jobs for unwed mothers; they were kicked out of school, and their fathers could lose their jobs. Yet the play took place only fifty years ago!
The girls were told by the Catholic Infant Home on Cathedral Hill to “not reveal your real names, never discuss this episode in your lives with anyone, have your babies, and go back to school, as if nothing occurred. Once you leave this place, never look back.” Yet they were the best of friends.
The women’s movement of the Sixties changed all this. Today, the land where Watermelon Hill once stood is occupied by the Jeremiah Program, which houses, nurtures, and educates young women and their children. They are taught to thrive and succeed as family units.
Watermelon Hill was a smart funny, poignant drama of three courageous young women. When it was time to give birth, each girl rode a taxi alone to St. Joseph’s Hospital. In a moving scene, a priest baptized the babies and the girls handed them to the sister in charge of the home.
The portrayals were stereotyped. The girls were ditzy, dreamy-eyed, naïve, and ballsy. The priest spouted homilies. The head sister was strict. The boy who picked up a girl in her later life was sexist and cruel. I saw a little of myself in his behavior. This play fit me like a well-cut suit.
History Theatre: Information at 651-292-4323 or historytheatre.com. Watermelon Hill, through 4/10.