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Playhouse stages drama on steel strike

Youngstown Playhouse will commemorate the centennial of the Great Steel Strike of 1919 with a production of the drama “Father K.”

The title character is Father Adalbert Kazincy, a Slovak priest in Braddock, Pa., who battled Andrew Carnegie’s empire and his own diocese to support the striking steelworkers, many of whom were Eastern European immigrants.

“The Mexican immigrants today? One hundred years ago it was the Slovaks who were used and abused and discarded,” said Charles Simon, who is directing the production. “Father Kazincy stood up for his parishioners. He fought he own diocese to defend his flock.”

“Father K” was written in 1979-80 by Charlie Peters, who did graduate work in playwrighting at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. He went on to write several films (“3 Men and a Little Lady,” “Blame It on Rio”) and directed two of his screenplays (“Music from Another Room,” “Passed Away”).

John Liana, who works with the Historical Center of Industry and Labor and teaches at Youngstown State University, and Tom Leary, a YSU history professor, were given a copy of the script by colleagues in Pittsburgh, and they passed it on to Simon.

“It’s a very profound piece,” Simon said. “There are parts where you almost break down in tears and parts where you almost laugh yourself out of your chair.”

Simon has many acting credits, but this is his first time as the primary director on a production. Susi Thompson is assisting as stage manger.

“I thought this had potential, but no one else wanted to direct it,” he said. “Everyone else was busy. If it’s going to happen, I’m going to have to do it myself.”

The play attracted a cast filled with local theater veterans. Terry Shears plays Father Kazincy and the rest of the cast includes Josh Beacom, Connie Cassidy, Paul Dahman, Lori George, Amy-Ann Kibler, Eric Kibler, Alan McCreary, Sam Perry, Bill Rees, Jeanine Rees and Denise Sculli.

“They’re all very talented,” Simon said. “When you give a very talented actor a small part they can pore over and peel back the layers of the onion, you’ve got lightning in a bottle.”

The actors did extensive research on their roles, and last week the cast took a trip to Braddock, Pa., where the church Kazincy preached in still is standing.

During the run of “Father K,” there will be a historical displays in the lobby to show how Youngstown was affected by the strike, and it will be preceded by a short video that will give audience members some context about what life was like in the United States at the time of the strike. Liana and Leary also will participate in Q&A sessions after some performances.

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