During the early and mid-20th century, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were two of the most prominent and celebrated theatrical performers in the U.S.

In 1924, two years after they married, the couple decided to join a young theater company, The Theatre Guild. The career move meant a considerable pay cut, but Lunt and Fontanne accepted on two conditions: they would never perform in separate productions, and they would spend their summers at their home in Genesee Depot, WI, known as the Ten Chimneys estate.

This estate and these celebrities are the inspiration for the world premiere of the aptly named Ten Chimneys, presented by the Arizona Theatre Company at the Herberger Theater Center from February 17 to March 6.

The play, a fictional account written by award-winning author Jeffrey Hatcher and directed by David Ira Goldstein, is set at the estate in the late 1930s after Lunt and Fontanne decide to perform Anton Chekhov’s The Sea Gull.

Before heading to New York for rehearsal and production, they retreat to their summer home to research the play, where they are surrounded by other actors, their family and their followers.

Photo by Tim Fuller/Arizona Theatre Company

According to the play guide, the performance demonstrates “what every Broadway star already knows — that the real drama on stage happens when the curtain is down.”

Because the play is centered around Ten Chimneys, which is literally named after the number of chimneys it has, the entire ATC cast and creative team rehearsed in the actual Wisconsin estate, says ATC spokesperson Jami Kozemczak.

Scenic designer John Ezell says he had visited the 1915 estate (which was added to the National Register of Historic Places 1998) several times.

“What we hope to achieve (with the set) is a degree of elegance in the exterior that would be consistent with the lifestyle of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, because they were very stylish people,” he says. “The aura of glamor which surrounded them also followed them everywhere they went, and it certainly permeates the atmosphere at Ten Chimneys.”

Goldstein told ATC Literary Manager Jenny Bazzell that what is so striking about Ten Chimneys as a place is that, unlike Europeans, Americans don’t have many theatrical landmarks.

“Ten Chimneys as a national historic landmark is one of the only true American places to celebrate the art of theater,” he says.

Because there are still clothes in the closets and books on the shelves, Goldstein says it feels as if they are still living there.

“You feel the living presence of these extraordinary performers who, in the 1920s and 1930s, were considered the great American actors of their time,” he says.

Kozemczak says that ATC is proud to be presenting the world premiere of Ten Chimneys “because there are not many organizations able to take any chances on new plays.”

Tickets for Ten Chimneys range from $30 to $64 and can be purchased here.

The Herberger Theater is located at 222 E. Monroe St. (light rail at 3rd St. and Washington/Jefferson stations) — 602.254.7399

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