New play about Penikese Island lepers to debut here

Playwright Scott Barrow, who lives in New York, has performed in several plays at The Vineyard Playhouse including "Twelfth Night" and "Tennessee Williams: An Evening of One Acts." — Photo courtesy of Scott Barrow

Actor/playwright Scott Barrow has written a new play called “Outcasts – The Lepers of Penikese Island.” It will have its first public viewing on Sunday, Feb. 12, at 2 pm, in a workshop performance here on the Vineyard.

It is an adaptation of a book of poems called “Outcasts – The Penikese Island Leper Hospital 1905-1921” by Eve Rifkah, published by Little Pear Press.

The play was adapted from Ms. Rifkah’s poems about actual events in the lives of the inhabitants of the Penikese Island Leprosarium. Penikese is a 75-acre island located near the west end of the Elizabeth Island chain, about one and one-half miles north of Cuttyhunk. The hospital was open only 16 years, from 1905 to 1921.

Mr. Barrow utilizes text from newspapers, court documents, and interviews from the time as well as the poems. The play follows a dozen patients from their expulsion from society to their incarceration on Penikese. The families and doctors try to understand the disease and the community’s reaction while they struggle to help the patients maintain a sense of dignity. The patients attempt to manage their fate while holding on to a sense of humanity, while isolated on the tiny island.

Mr. Barrow, who works out of New York, has been coming to the Vineyard all his life. He first performed on the Vineyard in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” at the Tisbury Amphitheatre with The Vineyard Playhouse 15 years ago. He has been in many Playhouse productions since then, from “Our Town” to “Arthur’s Perfect Christmas” to last summer’s “Tennessee Williams: An Evening of One Acts.”

Two years ago, along with MJ Bruder Munafo, he brought “The Laramie Project Epilogue” to The Vineyard Playhouse as part of a global simulcast of that play. Mr. Barrow has worked on and off Broadway and in many of the country’s top regional theaters as an actor, a writer, and a fight director (fight scene choreographer).

Eve Rifkah was founding editor of the literary journal Diner and co-founder of Poetry Oasis Inc., a nonprofit poetry association dedicated to education and promoting local poets. She is an adjunct professor of English at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

The cast will include some Vineyard favorites: Brooke Hardman, Brian Ditchfield, Molly Purves, and Amy Elizabeth Sabin, as well as New Yorkers Erin Moon, Luke Harlan, and Shannon Michael Wamser.

“Outcasts – The Lepers of Penikese Island,” 2 pm, Sunday, Feb. 12, email for location. Free, though limited tickets available due to limited space. Email for tickets: Following the reading there will be a question and answer session with the playwright, poet, and cast.

The host has requested that the location of the reading not be publicized due to the small size of the venue and regrets that all ticket requests cannot be honored.