Third act for Whitmore family at Players

  • Peterborough Players’ 2008 production of Our Town – pictured are James Whitmore, Kraig Swartz, Sevanne Martin, Jayne Houdyshell and the cast. Courtesy Photo

  • Nancy Mygatt and James Whitmore married on Aug. 9, 1947, in Dublin. The reception was held in the barn at the Players after a performance. Nancy had been an apprentice in 1942, before the theater closed for 3 years because of the war. 1947 was James Whitmore’s first summer at the Players. Courtesy Photo

  • Aliah Whitmore’s paternal grandparents, Nancy Mygatt and James Whitmore, married on Aug. 9, 1947, in Dublin. The reception was held in the barn at the Players after a performance. Nancy had been an apprentice in 1942, before the theater closed for 3 years because of the war. 1947 was James Whitmore’s first summer at the Players. Courtesy Photo

  • Father and son, James Whitmore and Jim Whitmore, Jr., share the Peterborough Players stage in a 2006 production of “Tuesday’s with Morrie.” Courtesy Photo

  • Aliah Whitmore and her father James Whitmore Jr. at the Peterborough Players Friday. Staff photo by MEGHAN PIERCE

  • Aliah Whitmore, granddaughter of Tony and Academy Award nominee James Whitmore, and her father Jame Whitmore Jr. at the Peterborough Players on Friday. Staff Photo by MEGHAN PIERCE

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/24/2019 9:23:26 PM

It was her Peterborough Players’ debut, but when Aliah Whitmore took to the stage in “Mahida’s Extra Key To Heaven” last week it was as a third generation Peterborough Player.

The daughter and granddaughter of actors James Whitmore Jr. and James Whitmore, Whitmore said she was thrilled when Players artistic director Gus Kaikkonen asked her to play Mahida this summer.

“It all kind of felt right. It’s been a decade since Gramps passed. Maybe now is the time,” she thought when she got the offer.

While it was her first time acting on the stage it is far from her first Players experience.

“I was here with my grandfather for his last show here, ‘Our Town,’” she said. “He had just had a hip replacement, and I came, and was driving him and just staying at the house with him running lines with him and it was a very powerful experience.”

That was in 2008. Whitmore said she had no idea her grandfather would pass away in February of the next year but remembers the summer and its magical feel.

“It felt like, he kind of returned home. This is where it all started for him,” she said of her grandfather’s acting career and family life.

And then to return to the Peterborough Players for his last show. “To do his final performance, to do the all-knowing voice of the Stage Manager, it was a very special summer for me for many reasons.”

She returned to the Players the following summer to work as an assistant stage manager for the Main Stage Company and as the stage manager for the Second Company.

Whitmore lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two sons. She has acted in television and is the artistic director of the family theater company Whitmore Eclectic, where over the past eight years she has directed 12 productions.

“I never really just get to act. I’m always directing and acting or producing. … So to just get to work on a part and explore a role is really exciting and I’ve wanted to work with Gus (Kaikkonen) for so long and it’s been really special.”

In “Mahida’s Extra Key To Heaven,” Aliah Whitmore plays Mahida, an Iranian college student studying in America. When her brother comes to visit and tries to bring her home they fight and he leaves her stranded. Having missed the last ferry of the night she meets an artist who brings her to his mother’s house as a shelter for the night. It’s a story of two families from two different cultures and religions.

Whitmore said she drew from her mother’s side of the family for the role.

“My family is Muslim, but we’re of Indian and West Indian descent,” she said, and while she is not Muslin Iranian, “There is a lot of similarities in familial relationships. … An obligation and a commitment to your family and a desire to believe in their fundamental goodness. The rogue individually thing is a very American concept.”

She said she approached the character by looking at what brought Mahida “to life emotionally, which is her family.”

“I like this part a lot. She’s a really interesting hero,” Whitmore said. “This type of character I think is an unsung character, but a very real person in the world.”

Ultimately, the show is about family, she said, which makes it a perfect play for her Players’ debut.

“Family is the heart of everything and that’s what I connected with this play more than anything,” she said.

For the Whitmore family, the Peterborough Players has always been a family affair.

“I love this theater. It’s a magical place in our family,” Whitmore’s father James Whitmore Jr. said. “I spent a number of years here working as an actor with my dad. Of course my mother and father met here, back in 1947. … But for me personally, I actually love this area. I love this crazy place. And the fact that Aliah is doing this extraordinary performance in this play is a cherry on the top of my life in an odd sort of way. Both Salesha, my wife, and I are just thrilled about what’s going on. … We’re big fans.”

It doesn’t make sense that the Southern Californian family is continually drawn back again and again to this theater, but at the same time it makes all the sense in the world, he said.

“This place has kind of conjured my father’s family,” Aliah Whitmore said. “Literally this is where my father’s life began. This is where my grandparents met and they got married in Dublin. … And then, to get to come back here as an actor and perform a story that so reflects my parent’s relationship and the collision of the two-worlds that produced me.”

Opening night it hit her just how much of her family is infused into her experience at the Players this summer, she said.

“To come out of that door and see both my kids on opening night here. I don’t know what, really, else there is,” she said. “For me, it feels like a homecoming, an arrival, into a place – my mother and father and my husband are there with my two kids – that was so meaningful to my grandfather and grandmother. It just feels really lovely and filling and really special … I really do think this stage is a special place.”

Whitmore stars in Russell Davis’ play “Mahida’s Extra Key To Heaven” with Steven Michael Walters, Kathy Manfre and Adham Haddara.

“Mahida’s Extra Key To Heaven” opened last week and runs through Sunday.


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