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Playwright, theatre director, and drama teacher are just three of the creative hats worns by Lenore Grunko of Deep River, as she prepares for the premiere of her latest production, A Dystrumpian Christmas Carol. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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If you see Lenore Grunko on a ladder scraping paint off the exterior of her house, you will know she is unwinding. “I do that to relax,” she says pointing to one side of her house in Deep River where there are clear signs of paint removal.
But don’t look for that paintless area to grow. Lenore is far too busy for much relaxing. She has just been elected to the Deep River Board of Education and at the moment she is deep into the rehearsals for A Dystrumpian Christmas Carol, a play she wrote with William Prenetta that will run from Friday, Dec. 1 to Saturday, Dec. 16 at the Carriage House Theater in Hartford. The authors are directing the play.
On a recent evening she was going over audio elements with tech engineer Andrew Jaworski, who lives in Old Saybrook. “It’s a tech-heavy play and he [Andrew] is just amazing,” she says.
In addition, Lenore is advisor to the high school drama club in Old Saybrook, which just put on Midsummer/Jersey by Ken Ludwig, a play that manages to combine the essence of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream with the Jersey Shore reality television show. Characters range from love-struck teens to the Governor of New Jersey.
“It was great and the audience really got it,” she says.
Lenore is also teaching two acting classes as an adjunct professor at Eastern Connecticut State University.
The inspiration for A Dystrumpian Christmas Carol, according to Lenore, came from a Facebook post by a former student at E. O. Smith High School in Storrs where Lenore taught and ran the drama club for some two decades.
“I’ve done this for so long that some of my former students are 40 by now, and some are [theater] professionals. I use Facebook otherwise I would lose contact with them. I can’t write them all Christmas cards,” she says.
The former student’s idea has turned into an original 70-minute play merging the characters of Charles Dickens’ famous novella, A Christmas Carol, with modern politics. Lenore contacted Prenetta, a friend with experience as a playwright and they created a script. “We spent months on it,” she says.
An ensemble of five actors plays 45 characters and a sixth actor portrays Donald Trump. Looking for a suitable theater to stage the production, the two authors discovered they were able to rent the Carriage House Theater in Hartford to put on a Christmas show.
“It’s an adorable black box theater with 77 seats,” Lenore says. They have paid for the rental and the production costs out of their own pockets.
The pair named their production company Liperly Productions, a combination of the names of their two dogs, Pepper and Lily. On a recent afternoon, Pepper, a mix of a dachshund and a Chinese crested dog with a resultantly unique appearance, wiggled in Lenore’s lap during a chat with a reporter.
Lenore says both those who support President Trump and those who are critical of him are welcome at the production.
“I’m not worried if there are Trump supporters in the audience,” she says. “Laughter is important; it’s important for health, and this play is very funny.”
Growing up in Bangor, Maine, Lenore dreamed of a career in theater. But her mother told her she would not pay college tuition for a theater major. Lenore instead majored in psychology at the University of Maine. Later, she got a Master’s degree in dance at American University in Washington, D.C. She met her husband Patrick McGlamery in Washington, where he was a librarian specializing in maps and geography at the Library of Congress.
When the needs of aging parents brought the couple back to Connecticut, Patrick became a librarian at Homer Babbidge Library at the University of Connecticut. Lenore started Grunko’s Gallimaufry, one-woman theatrical performances combining mime and dance. With a one-woman show, she could tailor her professional schedule to accommodate caring for her then-small children.
In her wide-ranging professional career, Lenore ran a children’s theater company for 18 years, taught in a gifted program at a middle school, and then taught high school English and drama at E.O. Smith, with her 20 years of producing shows including Broadway hits like Hello Dolly, Fiddler on the Roof, and The Addam’s Family, the last show she did at the school.
In addition to directing, Lenore has also worked as a costumer, not only for her own shows but also for productions at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre at the University of Connecticut. She studied costuming at Eastern Connecticut State University, but she learned to sew years before as a child. There was a time when she made most of her own clothes, “everything from coats to bathrobes.”
Lenore and her husband moved to Deep River in 2013, because their daughter and her family lived in the community. They bought an old house to redo, an experience with which they are familiar.
“It’s the seventh one we’ve done,” Lenore says. She adds that refinishing walls, interior and exterior, is her responsibility.
Patrick, now retired, works two days a week at the Deep River Library. Lenore continued to commute to E. O. Smith until she took over this year as the drama advisor in Old Saybrook.
Though A Dystrumpian Christmas Carol will not be produced until December, Lenore is already looking ahead. She is sure she and Prenetta will work together again.
“Bill and I are not done yet,” she says. When asked if she is planning another play, she demurs, “Oh my gosh, not right now, but I do have an idea for a television series.”
A Dystrumpian Christmas Carol is on stage at the Carriage House Theater, 360 Farmington Avenue, Hartford from Friday, Dec. 1 to Saturday, Dec. 16. For more information and tickets, visit www.showtix4u.com
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