A limner was an untrained artist in colonial times in America who traveled the countryside of middle class folk to earn a living, He added elegance to his pictures as he painted ornamental decoration on the faces he studied as if they were a looking glass into their hearts and souls To limn means to illuminate or to give more light. Many were miniatures painted in watercolor on vellum or canvas. To make the acquaintance of one of the true limners working at that time, Ammi Phillips, attend the world premiere of “Seven Cousins for a Horse” by Tammy Ryan, a delightful production at Ridgefield’s Thrown Stone Theatre Company until July 23.
Will Jeffries’ Ammi Phillips is good at what he does, painting portraits, but he is tired and heartsick. He has yet to begin to recover from the tragic loss of his young daughter Sadie to sudden illness and the toll that has taken on his rock, his wife Annie. He has stopped at the home of his favorite cousin Nisus Kinney, a kind hearted Jason Peck, with the hope of bartering for a horse by painting a likeness of seven of Nisus’ family members. As the roosters crow and the frogs ribbit, Ammi uses all his itinerant skills to capture the inner picture of everyone in the family from the gentleman farmer Nisus to his lovely wife Sally (Bridget Ann White), their head strong daughter Hattie (Shannon Helene Barnes) who plans to reform the world, Jane (Emma Factor) a dress maker who is all-to-ready to believe in vampires, and the shy Sarah (Emmanuelle Nadeau) who lacks the confidence to see her own beauty. Other family members include the rambunctious son Andrew Jackson who is always off somewhere playing hide and seek to avoid chores, the absent daughter Susan who is away visiting and Lucius Culver (Aiden Meachem) who is newly engaged to Hattie and is trying to assert his opinions without offending his bride-to-be.
Intervals of sweet music mark the change of scenes, while ghosts from the past dance their way into the story. As Ammi captures the charming likenesses of his cousins, he is made to realize that life is precious and all too fleeting, and like the cobbler who does not make shoes for his own family he has not painted portraits of his loved ones. Is it too late for him to correct this tragic mistake? Can he help himself and Annie recover from their loss? Is the country primed for change? Jonathan Winn directs this sensitive peek into the lives of another era that offers much to ponder and appreciate.
For tickets ($49), check out Thrown Stone Theatre, located at the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance, 440 Main Street, Ridgefield, and go online at thrownstone.org/events. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Enter the artistic world of Ammi Phillips in 1848, the most well known and revered portraitist in New England, who grew up in Colebrook, Connecticut, and pose for a folk art portrait as he looks into your soul to find your kindness and goodness.