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Reliving Riverhead’s history in alum’s play, ‘True Stories’


The beginning of Colin Palmer’s play “True Stories” takes the audience on a journey back four centuries to when Native Americans lived in Riverhead before European settlers. Over the next 45 minutes, he recounts numerous historical events in the town’s history, including his own family’s, which dates back 200 years in Riverhead, he said. 

“The end of the show is just as much about me trying to figure out what Riverhead means to me as much as the audience figuring it out,” Mr. Palmer said.

A 2009 Riverhead High School graduate, Mr. Palmer, 25, performed the solo-act play as one of nine performances in Stony Brook University’s New Works Festival. His play premiered Friday night and he followed that with a performance Saturday at the Staller Center for the Arts.

For someone who grew up in theater — he performed in high school with the Blue Masques and in summer shows at North Fork Community Theatre — the play represented a first for Mr. Palmer. Every aspect of the play was all him. He wrote the script, designed the set and the performance was solely him.

“Basically it’s just me behind a table for about 50 minutes talking about the town,” he said Friday, a few hours before his first performance.

That, of course, doesn’t quite do it justice. The play is an adaptation of the 1986 film “True Stories” directed by David Burne. The film’s main character visits a fictional Texas town as the people there prepare for the town’s 150th anniversary.

Mr. Palmer said he had always been a big fan of the movie and had an idea of turning it into a stage show.

“Throughout writing the piece it became less and less connected with the film,” he said. “It still has the same title and I use some of the music he wrote for it and a couple of the lines toward the beginning are similar, but it really did become something that’s about my experience with Riverhead.”

Similar to the anniversary theme in the movie, Riverhead is approaching its own milestone with its 225th anniversary next year. Mr. Palmer said he may try to perform a version next year at some point to coincide with the anniversary celebration. As of now, the only performances were at Stony Brook.

To prepare for writing the script, Mr. Palmer sorted through his own family history. His family, MaGee, dates back nearly 200 years in Riverhead, he said. From there, he researched newspaper archives from the past 150 years. He continued researching at the Suffolk County Historical Society and received assistance from Riverhead Town historian Georgette Case.

Mr. Palmer’s path after graduating high school took him to Annapolis, MD, where he studied at a small liberal arts college called St. John’s. He spent two years there as a Latin/ancient Greek major, did a semester abroad and then returned to Suffolk Community College to begin pursuing theater. He then transferred to Stony Brook where he’s set to graduate this month.

He hopes to direct plays afterward as well as playwriting.

His production of “True Stories” may be something he continues tweaking and improving “for the rest of my life,” he said.

“I don’t know how long I’ll live in Riverhead post-graduation, but there will always be a little bit of Riverhead inside of me,” Mr. Palmer said. “There will always be something about my personality and the way that I see the world that is affected by Riverhead.”

Photo Caption: Colin Palmer of Riverhead performs Friday night his solo production of “True Stories” at Stony Brook University. (Credit: Courtesy of Liam Wallace)

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