INDIANAPOLIS — Normally, one does not think of a presidential home site as a place of humor and laughter. But all that changes at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site as the Candlelight Theatre present “Good-Night, Caroline,” a collection of three one-act plays performed throughout the presidential residence.
The three plays take place in different rooms in the mansion: “Night Nurse, Madeline” by James Trofatter is performed in the back parlor; the dining room sets the stage for Susan Glaspell’s “Suppressed Desires”; and “Good-Night, Caroline” takes place in the home’s master bedroom.
Greenfield resident Steve Viehweg is cast as Alfred in “Good-Night, Caroline.” Viehweg is an assistant professor at IU’s School of Medicine by day, but many evenings you can likely find him rehearsing and reviewing his lines.
His character, Alfred, wants only to get a good night’s sleep, but his jumpy wife, Caroline, played by the Candlelight Theatre’s Creative Director Donna Wing, would rather stay up and talk. Eventually, she hears a noise and insists that Alfred go check on it.
“And then … stuff happens,” Viehweg said, not wanting to give away any spoilers.
There are about 10 actors in the entire production. They rehearse one night a week for six weeks, and then during the final week they rehearse every night. On the final night of rehearsal, they get to see each others’ shows.
Each show runs three times during the evening for a duration of about 25 minutes each. Audiences of 20 are ushered from room to room to view each of the shows. The performances in each room all start at the same time at the sound of a gong that can be heard throughout the house.
“That’s how we know that each show is ready to begin,” Viehweg says.
The Benjamin Harrison Home Presidential Site has been doing theatre for 12 years. Viehweg got involved through his son, Bryce, who played a World War I Doughboy in an earlier ghost story-centered Candlelight Theatre production. Viehweg has appeared in Candlelight productions numerous times, and he clearly enjoys performing with his fellow cast members.
“They are great actors and actresses to work with,” Viehweg said. “They are always well prepared, and we present quality productions.”
The credit for the vision of theatre in the Harrison Home goes to Donna Wing, volunteer creative director. Years ago, Wing was asked to stand in for a role-playing part at the Benjamin Harrison Home where visitors went from room to room for short vignettes. Wing had a vision of people coming in to sit down and watch live theatre. She took her idea to then CEO Phyllis Geeslin, now retired, who had only one question: “When do we open?”
According to Event Specialist Stacy Clark, the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site is unique throughout the country as the only presidential homesite that does live theatre of this kind. Visitors even make inquiries and then plan their travels around the opportunity to see live theatre in such a historic setting.
Candlelight Theatre is the largest fundraiser for the Benjamin Harrison Home. Clark is proud of the home’s contribution to the arts community and of the opportunities the theatre creates for actors, directors and playwrights. Since the theatre performs period pieces, it often chooses from scripts that might otherwise be lost to society through the passage of time.
Viehweg and Wing act opposite each other in the presidential bedroom, and most of the show actually takes place in bed.
“It’s an awesome experience,” Viehweg said. “It’s nice to be in that space as an actor in a more intimate way than you are as a visitor. It’s nostalgic.”
“Good-Night, Caroline” runs through May 2 at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, 1230 N. Delaware St. in Indianapolis. More information and ticket reservations can be made at bhpsite.org.