The Centenary Stage Company will perform the world premiere of “Turning,” about a forgotten local Olympian, at the Sitnik Theatre in Hackettstown, N.J., from Feb. 25 through March 7.
The playwright, Darrah Cloud, is an alum of the company’s Women Playwrights Series, whose director, Catherine Rust, who asked her to write a piece featuring a historical Hackettstown resident.
“When I was commissioned by Centenary Stage to write a play about some citizen of Hackettstown, I chose Ada Lunardoni,” Cloud said. “But when we went to do our research on her, we discovered a painful fact about the history of significant women: they were hardly anywhere to be found.”
Lunardoni was a member of the first-ever U.S. women’s gymnastics team to be sent to the Olympic Games, and later was a resident of Hackettstown. After her return from the 1936 Berlin games, she and her teammates were largely forgotten by U.S. history. The 1936 Olympic games were historically significant because this was Hitler’s Germany. Hitler hoped the games would prove his theory of Aryan racial superiority. Instead, the great Jessie Owens, an African American track superstar, became a hero by defeating Hitler’s “Aryan Supermen.”
Although Owens is a household name, no one has heard anything about the women on the first U.S. Gymnastics team.
Soon Cloud and Rust embarked on a journey to meet living members of other Olympic teams of that era as well as Lunardoni’s relatives. And then they found, “in a very small article in an old paper, one very important tidbit of information about her that said it all. And that is the play that finally, I wrote,” Cloud said.
“If you look up the roster for the 1936 Olympics women’s gymnastics team, you will find that the whereabouts of the team members after the games are largely unknown or unheralded,” said Cloud. “I wanted to set that right, but I also wanted to be in the world of those women, to examine their courage at becoming ‘turners’ — gymnasts — at a time when women didn’t become athletes at all, and their courage at sailing back across the Atlantic after sailing west to escape Europe in their childhoods. To me it was an immigrants’ story above all else. And aren’t we all travelers to new and difficult frontiers in the arcs of our lives?”