Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tevye Takes His Final Bow

Posted by Bruce Miller
I just returned from Lou Rubin’s funeral and graveside service. Phil and I joined Tom Width, Jackie Jones and Glenn Crone in representing the theatre community. If others were there, I apologize for missing you.

Phil and I arrived about 15 minutes before the service, but it was obvious that the crowd that kept pouring in was not going to fit inside the cemetery facility. So the two of us and Tom Width and about 30 others gladly took our places outside and listened to the service over speakers. I'm sure Lou loved the fact that his service was SRO.

One of Lou’s favorite roles at the Mill was Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. He played it at least twice to great acclaim. His family wanted to include something from Fiddler in the service, but secular music is prohibited in a Jewish funeral. So after consultation with the powers-that-be, it was decided that Sunrise Sunset would be performed as a sort of overture, before the service actually began. It was very moving.

Later in the service, a granddaughter said that Lou had mentioned that he wanted helium balloons at his funeral, to cheer things up. His daughter Claudia Biegler told him that she was concerned that a balloon launch would not be environmentally friendly, and maybe not even legal.

Lou, we were told, then suggested bubbles, and his family agreed. So small containers of soapy liquid with bubble wands were handed out to the overflowing crowd. During the graveside service, 50 or more family members and friends began blowing bubbles until the entire area around the graveside was shimmering with fragile, shining bubbles wending their gentle way toward a beautiful blue sky. It was impossible not to smile. It was a PERFECT Lou moment.

Now might be a good time to reprint an article that appeared in the Petersburg Progress-Index, and was picked up nationally by the Associated Press, announcing the Mill’s opening in Dec 1965. It’s a fitting tribute to Lou and Buddy, who died last March.

Under the headline “Old Grist Mill Becomes Weekend Dinner Theater,” the following article appeared on December 9, written by Pat Matthews. I've left all the grammar and punctuation intact.

"Three enterprising young couples, convinced Southside Virginians share their love of the theater, have converted a 302-year-old grist mill into a weekend dinner theater.

The partners in the Swift Creek Mill Playhouse are Wamer Callahan, a high school teacher and the only member with professional theatrical experience; Dr. Louis Rubin, Petersburg optometrist who has appeared in numerous amateur productions; and Wesley Richardson, operator of a drive-in restaurant in Petersburg.

They are being assisted by their wives, each with her own special skill to contribute.

Sally Richardson is not only acting in the opening production of “Carnival”, but she has also been the innovator of many of the decorating schemes for the historic old mill.

Betty Callahan has worked with her husband on many amateur productions in the past and specializes in coordinating the rehearsal schedule.

Fran Rubin is assisting her husband in public relations and is also handling the important jobs of reservations and make-up.

The couples have already encountered enough obstacles to discourage most new business partners. Contractors, looking over the building believed to be the oldest grist mill in this country, found it sound but needing a great deal of renovation.

The 2 1/2 –foot thick walls of the foundation and first floor were solid, but the floors were lopsided. To even the floors, the huge structure had to be jacked-up five inches.

Then the opening had to be delayed two months because the mill was built partly on granite, and this had to be removed before work could progress on a kitchen addition.

The partners say that the mill plays will be of like caliber with the operation similar to other theaters in the state. There will be buffet style dinner for guests before the play on two dining levels.

The theater will seat 250. The stage is slightly elevated in the manner of a Greek amphitheater and there is no curtain."

More commentary to follow.

--Bruce Miller

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