Sparks fly at Ten Chimneys in New Paltz

Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.

In the wilds of Wisconsin, in a tiny rural town called Genesee Depot, stands a National Historic Landmark that was once a Mecca for aspiring actors and playwrights. Ten Chimneys was the summer home of two of the greatest stage stars of the 20th century, Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne, and being invited there for a visit meant that you had made the Big Time.

Regular visitors included such luminaries as actors Helen Hayes, Katharine Hepburn, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, novelist Edna Ferber and critic Alexander Woollcott. Playwright Noel Coward – the couple’s closest friend, who wrote Design for Living, a scandalous farce about a bisexual love triangle, for them in 1932 – had his own specially designated room there. “If you get to go to Ten Chimneys, you must have done something right,” wrote Carol Channing. “What the Vatican is to Catholics, Ten Chimneys is to actors.”

But that doesn’t mean that a visit with the “Fabulous Lunts” would necessarily be a cushy one, as the up-and-coming young actress Uta Hagen discovered. Cast to co-star with Lunt and Fontanne in a production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, Hagen was invited to Ten Chimneys in August 1938 to rehearse. She found them harsh taskmasters: At one point during the stage run, Hagen was bitten by Lunt and kicked by Fontanne after missing an entrance.

Hagen’s ordeal and Fontanne’s contentious relationship with her mother-in-law, who lived in a converted chicken coop on the property, form the primary matter of Jeffrey Hatcher’s recent comedy Ten Chimneys. The Unison-sponsored play is about to get its Hudson Valley premiere at Woodland Pond in New Paltz, courtesy of the Mohonk Mountain Stage Company. Robert G. Miller will direct. The cast includes Cate Olson as Hagen, Christine Crawfis as Fontanne, Bruce Pileggi as Lunt, Doug Woolley as Sidney Greenstreet, Elizabeth Barrows, Barbara Scanlan and Rich Hack.

Performances will begin at 8 p.m. on June 29 and 30. Ticket prices are $12 for Unison members and $16 non-members when reserved in advance, $2 more at the door. Purchase tickets online at



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