Reel Island experience

Capawock Theater
The Capawock Theater. Photos by Ralph Stewart

By CK Wolfson - November 9, 2006

On an Island whose population shrinks tenfold off-season, in a town where people brake for wild turkeys and celebrate dog birthdays by posting their pets' photos in the newspaper, it seems quite appropriate that when the old stucco and Tudor-trimmed Capawock, the anchor of Main Street in Vineyard Haven, closed for repairs in 2004, it would be noted with proprietary concern.

After being dark two often contentious, rumor-filled years, embellished with grassroots committees, letters to the editor, questions of new purchasers and eminent domain, hand wringing by the downtown business community, and even a parody of the Brothers Grimm composed by the Island's favorite seasonal son, Pulitzer prize-winning satirist Art Buchwald, the Capawock finally reopened Nov. 1, as advertised. Hurrah!

The brass band was a lone tin whistler who, choosing to remain anonymous, leaned against one of the new poster cases while playing intermittently. Instead of klieg lights there were the cleaned and brightened old globe lights under the marquee, and the red carpet fashion statement was quilted vests and turtleneck sweaters. A "soft opening" celebration, according to attorney Benjamin Hall, Jr., third-generation co-owner with his brother Brian. Nonetheless - it was festive.

Jim Beckerly
Long-time Capawock technician Jim Beckerly comes down from Maine regularly to keep things in good working order.

With Main Street first resembling a deserted stage set, people alone and in clusters began appearing out of the dark, ambling toward the balloon-festooned Capawock. The core group of the committee that had pushed for the reopening - Tisbury selectman Denys Wortman of MVTV, Crocker House owner Jeff Kristal, a former president of the Tisbury Business Association, and Mary Jo Goodrich, a real estate associate with Tea Lane - stood under the marquee like party hosts, greeting people with smiles and handshakes. Announcing that he was, "Happy as all get out," Mr. Wortman said, "The best way to get something done is to encourage it."

Vineyard Haven resident Dr. Gerry Yukevich, whose lamenting poem, "Oh, Capawock! Our Capawock!" (Ode in Doggerel to a Darkened Cinema) was published in The Times last year, declared, "This fills the void. We've missed this wonderful theater and look forward to walking down the street and enjoying the neighborhood cinema."

Capawock Theater
While the paint was drying, early arrivals got a first look at the new, wider seats, newly covered walls, and just-installed carpeting.

But none were more spirited than the Hall brothers. Wearing a wide smile, a top hat and long red boa, Brian Hall, who'd been working on the finishing touches the previous night and all that day (the new carpeting was laid at 3 pm), said, "I'm happy I reached this milestone - but it's only a marker on a continuous journey."

Built in 1912 by Allan Norton, the single-screen theater was once the oldest continually operating movie theater in the state. Its orchestra pit boarded over, its original gold-framed silent screen still mounted on a back wall, it presented a catalogue of features needing repair or replacement: furnace, plumbing, rotting walls, water-damaged foundation, chairs, wall covering, carpeting. The sound system, as are other features, is in process.

Brian Hall
Capawock co-owner Brian Hall, tired from having worked on upgrades all through the previous night, still manages to get into the spirit of the occasion.

But nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of those who almost filled the theater's new, wider, 220 seats. West Tisbury resident Shanti Bloom said, "Thank God it's open. We would have come to support this no matter what picture was showing."

And that was a good thing. The movie was "Boynton Beach Club," directed by Susan Seidelman, featuring a cosmetically engineered Dyan Cannon, Brenda Vaccaro and Sally Kellerman, as members of a frighteningly homogeneous group of single senior citizens living in Florida. They spend their time finding ways to become coupled again. Ms. Cannon, who appears to have undergone more reconstruction than the Capawock, is the most pitiable. Billed as a comedy, it leaves a residue of melancholy.

But on last Wednesday evening the audience was impervious. One theatergoer no sooner whispered her hopes that having the renovations didn't imply the movies would actually continue without a breakdown, then the film sputtered and stopped. The crowd, loving tradition, laughed and applauded.

In his welcoming comments, Benjamin Hall, Jr., recognized the efforts of his father Buzzy Hall and thanks his brother, saying, "Because of their work, we are here; thanks to you, we are here." He noted that paint was still drying, the concession stand wasn't operating, and cup holders were missing, adding, "We tried to keep it a bit dog-eared, but cleaner." His comment that the wider seats caused the aisle to match Island politics by being slightly left of center brought an appreciative laugh. "Movies are about bringing dreams to our imagination."

The Halls have been quoted as describing the operation of the Capawock as an unprofitable "labor of love," "a community service," "our little philanthropic enterprise," "not worth the real estate it occupies." True. But in an age when the rest of the country seems attached to satellite dishes and endless cable choices, when video and DVD rentals hold families captive in their homes, the sight of Islanders greeting each other with all the warmth and congeniality generated by a neighborhood block party, it all seemed priceless.