By Dedra Cordle
As a child, Jeremy Sony never gave much thought to the history of the Grove City area. When he was driven into town for family reunions, the street names had no special meaning. When he came across new establishments, how the land looked years before never crossed his mind.
And when he helped his mother as she worked at Beulah Park, he never wondered about its legacy within the community. It is not as if he disliked the area, in fact, he quite enjoyed it, but like so many he never felt compelled to sit down and research its early days.
But all of that changed in 2013 when he worked with Lisa Napier-Garcia of Little Theatre Off Broadway renown on the production of “Sleepy Hollow” at a sister theatre. As the two were discussing future events, Napier-Garcia wondered if Sony, now a playwright, might be interested in creating an original historical piece to celebrate Jackson Township’s bicentennial in 2015. Sony admits he was intrigued with the idea.
“I had not written a direct historical play before,” he said. “I have done literary adaptations like “Robin Hood” where there is an abundance of historical elements, but never something like this.”
Believing it might not be too dense to research – after all, the area is not that old – he hit the archives at the museum and the library and soon found himself inundated with historical facts, figures and legends. At one point, he thought this task might be too daunting to handle.
“I’m trying to put 200 years of history into a 1 hour and 30 minute theatre production,” Sony said with a laugh.
Despite feeling a little overwhelmed, Sony discussed important points of note in the history of the area with Napier-Garcia and other members of the Grove City Historical Commission and started creating his vision for the play. He knew he had to write about William Foster Breck, the Grant family and other early settlers and founders of the town; he knew he wanted to write about the first bank, the first bank robbery, the centennial, the intra-urban line, Jane Chambers and missing Mastodon bones. He did not know how he could tie them all together.
Then inspiration struck during a public auction of personal property of the Jividen home.
“What if they found something?” he asked himself.
After that, the plot took off and the past and present came together for “The Century Box.”
It begins with siblings Sydney and Dylan finding an old, dusty box that is ready to be polished up and put on the auction block. As they peek inside, they find a treasure trove of items: newspaper clippings, a baseball bat, photos and a journal. During their argument over what to do with the items, a mysterious woman shows up and recalls the long forgotten items of a seemingly forgotten past. As she relays the stories, the audience is taken to the founding of the city.
Napier-Garcia, who will be directing the play, said she enjoys “The Century Box” because it is entertaining and educational.
“I’ve been learning a lot,” she said. “Being a transplant and not a native (she is from West Virginia), it has been nice to learn the history and the stories of Grove City.
“I didn’t know that Hoover Road was named after John Hoover, who was a solider in the Revolutionary War and I didn’t know Orders Road was named after Jonas Orders, who fought in the Civil War,” she continued. “It has given me a better appreciation for the city.”
Sony said there are many fascinating things to discover about the surrounding area – for instance, did you know Al Capone might have sought refuge here from mobsters for a day or two? – and he hopes people will be intrigued enough to want to see the play and then go out and discover other historical events on their own.
The first production of “The Century Box” will take place on May 29 at 8 p.m. at Central Crossing High School, located at 4500 Big Run South Road. Following productions will take place at the school on May 30 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and then on May 31 at 2 p.m. All performances will be free to the public. Donations are accepted.