Tuesday, March 17, 2015
The Annual St. Patrick’s Show was a fundraiser of the kind seldom seen anymore: a community theatre, in this case, a church drama club, whose aspirations went no further than homemade costumes and props in the church hall, a show put on by friends and neighbors, and a bit of the luster of show biz for the price of a 50-cent ticket.
And Billy Disappeared was a comedy put on St. Patrick’s week at the Holy Name Hall on South Street, Chicopee, Massachusetts, in 1923. The following year it was another comedy, Professor Pepp, billed as “A Farcical Comedy with a College Flavor in Three Acts.” Oh, the flashy times and witty repartee of the Roaring Twenties.
As evidenced in this page from the program, these types of plays featured large casts, because as any community or church theatre group knows, large casts means lots of relatives in the audience.
In those days, it certainly meant large Irish families.
The next year, March 1925, they performed The Whole Town’s Talking, which surely they must have been, over the riotous vaudevillian gusto of another big cast made up of members of the congregation, including defectors from the choir, Ladies’ and Men’ Sodalities, and some seniors from Holy Name High.
This tight little world on South Street was the Holy Name of Jesus Church, founded in 1857, the oldest Roman Catholic church in western Massachusetts, the mother church of the Springfield Diocese. A grammar school and high school and convent were once part of that little world. Unfortunately, the church was closed temporarily in 2011, and continues to be closed indefinitely at this point, due to repairs needed for structural issues. The parish continues actively at another church around the corner, Assumption of the Blessed Mary Church.
The thespians, their antics, and their intermissions of Irish songs, are from another era when hokum, sentiment, and amateur theatrics were beloved for all their imperfections, when two players not married to each could fluster the straight-laced regular churchgoers with a stage kiss, and when St. Patrick’s Day was a time for innocent, and entirely homemade, showmanship.