Notebook: A theater may presage renewal of an old New England mill village; slow-train joys



Outside The Arctic Playhouse, in West Warwick, R.I. See more pictures below. Photo: Photo: Linda Gasparello

Outside The Arctic Playhouse, in West Warwick, R.I. See more pictures below. Photo: Photo: Linda Gasparello

It is the theater paradox: regional performances are often as good or better than those in big cities,  even those in the hallowed locales of Broadway and the West End of London.

Away from the established talent and the marquee names, theater flourishes, sometimes in the most modest venues. Having been a theater critic in various places, including London and Washington, I can attest to the fact that theater is where you find it. I saw productions of Evita  in London, New York and a dinner theater in Manassas, Va.

So I was delighted to find The Arctic Playhouse in Rhode Island, just a short distance from my home. The little theater– and I mean little -- is without pretensions. It is as modest as can be and, in its way, a little treasure.

Arctic, in its day, was a destination village in West Warwick, R.I.,: a place where professionals lived and shoppers came from afar. But the development of malls nearby doomed little Arctic. Now it is a sad place with an aged population: The senior center is a happening place for many of the residents.

Arctic is proud but poor, with businesses that have held on from better days; businesses like Rockway Tailoring and Dry Cleaners (still run by the family that opened its doors 132 years ago), Cayouette Shoe & Leather Repair and Rogers Paint Service Store.

For all of its boarded-up shops, Arctic is fighting back. The symbol of its fight is The Arctic Playhouse,  in a former dog salon on the main street. It was founded by three Rhode Islanders, Jim Belanger, Lloyd Felix and David Vieira, who wanted to arrest the decay in the village.

Though lacking in many amenities, Arctic now has a live theater, which few villages can claim. It is small, seating just 90 people, and very “villagey,” adding to its charm. Audiences are local and pricing ($10 for many performances) is very reasonable. There is a cash bar, free popcorn in red-striped cups and cookies baked by volunteers.

The curtain metaphorically (there isn’t one) rises weekends to some rattling good productions, either the playhouse's own or those of New England amateur companies. The lights go up and the players are in front of you -- so close that you feel you are in the play yourself.

Whether I have seen a production in a full or half-empty house, I have sensed that the audience is part of the performance. One feels responsible for the players and the play.

My wife and I are regulars and have been enchanted. Next year, The Arctic Playhouse moves to a new home, still on the main street, still in a converted shop, but with better facilities and more seats.

The curtain is going up on renewal in Arctic, one show at a time.


Jim Belanger introduces a play . Photo: Linda Gasparello

Jim Belanger introduces a play. Photo: Linda Gasparello

Before a performance. Photo: Linda Gasparello

Before a performance. Photo: Linda Gasparello

Theater co-founder Lloyd Felix mans the bar. Photo: Linda Gasparello

Theater co-founder Lloyd Felix mans the bar. Photo: Linda Gasparello


The joys of slow Northeast Corridor trains

Infrastructure is one of the things that President  Trump has proposed to fix. In theory, the trains between Boston and Washington, D.C. – the famous Northeast Corridor -- could be sped up by at least 100 miles an hour.

Well, I have ridden the fast trains of Europe, swooped from Paris to Avignon, France, hurtled from Brussels to London under the English Channel. But I miss the old way of locomotion like France’s Mistral, which used to travel from Paris to Nice and on which you could eat memorable food, get your hair cut or visit a boutique.

On the cross-channel trains between Britain and the Continent, which were put on ferries and sailed overnight, it was dinner in England, breakfast in France and a divine sleep between.

If Amtrak ends up on steroids at some time in future, I shall miss the old, slow regional on which I travel to Washington, D.C.,  and back to Providence so often with time to read a book or get started on writing one. Forget the speed, Amtrak, but please fix the wifi.

Llewellyn King, a frequent contributor to New England Diary, is host and executive producer of White House Chronicle, on PBS, and a long-time publisher,, editor, columnist and international business consultant.