Editor’s note: Mary and Marita Forr are sisters. Mary is the Director of Life Issues for the Archdiocese of Washington and has previously written for Grotto Network. Marita is a Special Olympics gold medalist and came up with the idea to produce a play as a family every year on summer vacations — in fact, she’s the director and calls all the shots. Here, they capture how this tradition has brought the family together in joy.
What do My Fair Lady, The Great Grocery Store Robbery, 1776, Miracle on 34th Street, The Grinch, and The First Thanksgiving all have in common? Well, unless you’re in our large, extended family, you wouldn’t know each of these plays has the same director, cast, and crew — all led by Marita Forr.
About 10 years ago, our family began a tradition of performing a play each year while on vacation in Avalon, New Jersey. It may seem a little strange — an extended family of grown-ups beginning a tradition of putting on a play just as we are all starting (or on our way to starting) new families. But there is no place in America where there is more joy than the beach house on the night of “The Play.”
As the wisest cousin, Marita Forr saw a need for some extra fun — more joy — on family vacations. “We just used to be bored with each other on our family vacations,” Marita said. Everyone has a role but there’s no doubt she is the director of the play each year. The play typically lasts between 45 and 90 minutes and is performed at the beach house, in full costume, for a small but rapt audience of Marita’s parents, Tom and Patricia Forr, and Marita’s godmother, Beth Szeghy, and her husband, Jack (Marita says Beth is the one who inspires her to live out her faith).
The play is a major undertaking — a full-time job. Marita works on the script all year long, periodically updating the cousins as to their role. At times, people are cast in roles they would prefer not to be, but hey — that’s show biz.
Each year, Marita chooses the play with the help of her father. Sometimes her play choice is inspired by her trips around the country — 1776 was selected the year after a visit to Mt. Vernon near Washington, D.C., for example. Sometimes her play choice is inspired by an insight she wants to raise for the family. Several years ago, Marita adapted the Miracle on 34th Street story into a play to remind us of the truth that the spirit of Santa Claus is real and that we need to keep it alive in our hearts.
This summer, Marita has chosen My Fair Lady to teach the family an important lesson. Here’s how she puts it:
My Fair Lady is about a girl who was very common in her ways. The professor helps her to become more presentable to others. If you ever watched this movie, you would remember it was only toward the end that everyone started reaching out to her. They started treating her as a lady instead of condemning her or ignoring. They treated her like we want to treat other people today. I mean — face it — this woman had no home life. She was just thrown out on the street. She had no education. She was not very loved, and she had nobody to say goodnight to. Her life was like we treat people who are poor or experiencing homelessness today. The moral of My Fair Lady is that we should treat people as Christ regardless of how they speak. That’s an important lesson for everyone to learn today.
The lessons taught in the plays aren’t the only ones we learn, though. Once the script is set, the aunts get to work finding or making costumes. As Marita puts it, they learn the value of hard work. “Aunt Peggy, Aunt Kathy, and Aunt Kate are really helpful with this,” Marita said. “They help with the script, the costumes — keeping people in line, keeping the actors and actresses paying attention.”
And as the actors and actresses improve each year, their roles the following year reflect that development. Marita tries to play to their strengths and hopes they will live up to the challenge. For instance, Bill is a 6’7” former basketball player who now works as an attorney — Marita has worked to develop his acting talent over the years. Finally, two years ago, Marita gave him the star role in The Great Grocery Store Robbery, where Bill was accused of stealing a cake from the local grocer. Bill lived up to the hype and brought down the house.
Tom, a real-life judge — and Marita’s uncle, godfather, and role model — is frequently cast as a judge. Mallory is a dentist who was recently cast as Mary Poppins, and the audience thought she might actually fly away on her umbrella as she skipped across the front of the room. Andrew, a former lifeguard and fitness fanatic, was cast as a soldier guarding King George in 1776. Katie loves horses, so she was previously cast in a non-speaking role as, well, a horse. But this year, because of her great improvement, Katie will have the chance to show her skills as she plays Freddie’s mother in My Fair Lady.
“The most improved and best actor and actress in the group are Aunt Peggy and Uncle Joe, especially in The Great Grocery Store Robbery,” Marita said. “Aunt Peggy and Uncle Joe were so funny they had the whole crowd and cast laughing.” Their roles in My Fair Lady will reflect the favorable reviews from the last play.
The whole family looks forward to the play all year long — it is the topic of conversation at every family gathering. Marita said she started the play to allow people to act like kids again: “It’s hard work, but the cousins and aunts and uncles ask for different parts every year — so the demand is there.”
Marita said that the play has become an annual family tradition because it helps everyone step out of the stresses of life. “When they come to the beach and perform the play, they don’t have to do much,” she said. “All they have to do is have fun and enjoy themselves. It’s not like they’re writing their own parts — it’s not like they’re getting their own costumes — the aunts do that. All they have to do is have fun.”
If you want to see pure joy, try to figure out a way to get an invitation or ticket to this year’s showing of My Fair Lady. The play will only be shown once, but the joy it brings will be remembered and relived all year long.