Contagious drama in Albany

John and Maeve McEneny

Siblings John and Maeve McEneny. He's a playwright. She's a director.

It killed more people than WWI or the Black Plague, and it was rampant here in Albany.
And the mark it made affected generations in ways they probably didn't understand.

Still, who writes a play about the flu?

John McEneny, that's who.

No, not that John McEneny -- though he did work on it.

The playwright and Brooklyn drama teacher is the son of New York State Assemblyman and Capital Region historian John J. McEneny.

John P. McEneny is part of the seventh of eight generations of McEnenys from Albany. Stories of the city's history were the soundtrack to his childhood.

"Every time you got in the car there was a tour. Albany is my dad's Narnia, you know. He sees it as this magical place of people and neighborhoods."

Some of the stories revolved around the influenza pandemic of 1918.

When McEneny was looking for an American story to write for his high school drama students in Park Slope, those tales of Albany came to mind.

"I wanted to write about Brooklyn, because that's where my kids are from. But Brooklyn did pretty well [during the 1918 pandemic]. They'd had a Yellow Fever scare and they also had immigration, so they had all these quarantines and they knew what to do. Other port cities like Philadelphia and Albany were hit much harder."

So, with some research assistance from his dad, he wrote The Grippe of October. The play revolves around two families, one from the Pine Hills (where the McEneny's were from) and another from a poorer part of the city. "I wanted to show how the epidemic affected both of them."

Siena College is mounting a production of "The Grippe of October" this weekend, directed by John's sister, Maeve McEneny.

"People don't know much about the influenza epidemic." Maeve says. "We only knew the stories our grandfather told our dad. Our grandfather nearly died of influenza."

Their great-grandmother died a few years later from complications of the flu. "There's a whole family branch that's been affected big time from this absent mother."

So, why see a play about the flu?

Both siblings say it's a story that's still very relevant today. "It's a beautiful story." John says. "Here we were at the end of the war and there was this terrible catastrophe in Albany and it affected everyone. But people really rose to the occasion. The League of Catholic women would leave their homes and travel to rural places like Berne, take care of women and children, and save people's lives."

"It's about people helping other people," says Maeve. "That's an important message. Alice, the main character, says it is time for us to take care of each other, we can't leave each other in the dust and alone."

The Grippe of October
Siena College - Foy Hall, Beaudoin Theatre (campus map)
Box office: (518)783-4242

Friday and Saturday at 8pm -- Sunday at 2pm
(Preview: Thursday October 2 at 8pm)
$4.00 General Admission
$2.00 for seniors and non-Siena students
Free to Siena community members

Comments

Holy smokes! John directed an Albany High play back in the mid-90s
that I was in, and he was totally awesome. Well, after reading this article I guess Awesome John just got a little Awesomer. I'm trying to figure out what else in life is awesome like John, and the first thing that comes to mind is "my freedom". My freedom to eat cookies, that is. And I will not allow any terrorist to threaten that freedom, so help me god. So, to recap... John = awesome = cookies = beating the terrorists. Thank you.

John's theatre company can be found at www.alltheworldsastage.org - I have seen his work in New York - Siena is lucky to produce this work.

My Troy grandmother died in 1918 of the influenza.
Raising chickens contributed to this disease.
My grandfather married two more times.
One of his daughter's married Jack Carr, from the meat packing company. The other daughter married the Brazialian ambassador.

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