In the ultimate scene of Night and Her Stars, playwright Richard Greenberg (1958- ) has imagined a conversation between Charles Van Doren (1926- ) and his father, Mark (1894-1972), at the family’s home in Cornwall, Connecticut. Charles looks around, takes in the familiar beauty of the scenery and says “Bugs.”
At that moment I realized how seriously Greenberg had researched his subjects and how deeply invested he was in this play. Ask anyone who has spent so much as a summer’s day in Cornwall to describe the experience and the first word out of his or her mouth will be “Bugs.” I know this because I spent the first 21 summers of my life in Cornwall where Charles Van Doren’s children were amongst my playmates on the shores of Cream Hill Lake.
I am too young to remember the Quiz Show Scandal, and had no idea that Van Doren was anyone but Elizabeth and John’s father until I saw a caricature of him in Mad Magazine. By the time I made the connection, I was also old enough to realize that it was not fair to any of the Van Dorens I knew to mention that past time. Life had not ended for Van Doren in 1959 – in fact he is still alive – and he and his family had the right to live their lives in the present. As a result, I have avoided reading or watching rehashes of that time, knowing that they must bring pain to the family.
So the Oldcastle production of Night and Her Stars was my first experience of a fictional Charles Van Doren and a detailed retelling of the Quiz Show Scandal (I do not consider Mad Magazine a reliable source).