Long Island theater prepares to raise curtain again after act of hate

NORTHPORT, Long Island (WABC) -- A community on Long Island is gearing up for a special performance at a local theater after it suffered a setback when it finally reopened after the pandemic.

Someone hurled racist comments at one of the actors, which forced the show to close again.

There is already a show of support at the John Engeman Theater, including signs and flowers, after an act of hate.

But on Wednesday night will come the real support, when the theater fills up for a performance of "Smokey Joe's Café."

As if it isn't stressful enough to re-open live theater in a pandemic, there was an incident outside Sunday's matinee of "Smokey Joe's Café" - in which seven of the nine cast members are Black.

"One of our cast members was walking up the block, toward our actors' housing, near the theater, and a racial slur was hurled at this person," said theater owner Kevin O'Neill.

The cast told the theater's management they were distraught, deciding along with management, to cancel Sunday evening's performance

The theater, usually a staple in this community, is known for showing love, not hate, to the Broadway stars it attracts.



But in recent weeks there have been several disturbing signs of hate, which may be from outsiders, like an instance at a protest against vaccine mandates over the weekend.

Community activists and leaders are fed up.

"We've had instances of swastikas at school facilities, whether it's elementary school or at the high school, we've also had incidents of swastikas during protests for health care workers," said Northport Village Trustee Dave Weber.

The Northport chapter of a group called "Not in Our Town" decided the best way to stand up to what was happening is to buy tickets for Wednesday night's performance.

"To really turn this around, to make this a positive experience for them to be in Northport," said Megan Dolan Saporita with Not in Our Town Northport.

To say the theater has already been struggling during the pandemic, would be an understatement.

And then, four other performances before Sunday were canceled, due to COVID. Still the owners say tickets for Wednesday night are going fast - and 100% of the proceeds will now go to an organization of the cast members' choice.

In addition, Northport will have a vigil on Saturday against hate.

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