The WTF’s Woodstock Tontine by Steffi Rubin Features Six Excellent Performances

The Woodstock Tontine is a new play, written by Steffi Rubin and presented on July 7-9 and 14-16 in Burning Coal Theatre Company‘s Murphey School Auditorium in Raleigh as part of this year’s Women’s Theatre Festival. All of the festival’s shows are written and directed by women, and feature woman actors and behind-the-scenes talent.

The play centers around six women who met during the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, the historic 1969 peace-sex-love-drugs-music festival of the 1960s. For the uninitiated millennials out there, over a three-day weekend in 1969, 400,000 bohemian counter-culture people descended on a farm in upstate New York for music, dancing, and drug-taking and general letting loose.

Many big-name musicians and bands of the time agreed to play, including Jimi Hendrix; Janice Joplin; Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young; and Creedence Clearwater Revival. The festival is still seen as a defining moment of the 1960s. As the Woodstock Tontine story unfolds, we learn that the festival was also a defining moment in the lives of the main characters, too. Kurt definitely approved of the music played during the show!

The ladies have stayed in touch over the five decades since the festival, but they have been reunited by the death of one of their group. As they catch up and reminisce about their first meeting, and how their lives have been going recently, we learn that they are very different personalities leading very different lives. There’s Shelley, the promiscuous one; Veronika, the uptight German immigrant; Roberta, a woman set in her ways and very responsible; Trudy, the traveling nomad; and B.J., the granola-eating, African-American Jew.

Eventually, they speak of their fast-approaching golden years, and Roberta suggests that they all put $50,000 into an investment that will earn them dividends but that will be reinvested as each pass away, giving the last woman standing a large sum of money. After the initial shock of the suggestion wears off, they all decide to participate with the tontine.

The Women's Theatre Festival's cast for <em>The Woodstock Tontine</em> by Steffi Rubin includes (from left) Judy McCord, Jennifer Kuzma, Lisa Leonard, Julie Oliver, and Verlene Oates (photo by Steffi Rubin)
The Women’s Theatre Festival’s cast for The Woodstock Tontine by Steffi Rubin includes (from left) Judy McCord, Jennifer Kuzma, Lisa Leonard, Julie Oliver, and Verlene Oates (photo by Steffi Rubin)

We watch as one-by-one, another of the ladies passes away and the survivors attend the funeral; and just as the characters do, the audience collectively wonders who will die next, and who will ultimately collect the windfall. It’s a clever device that has the audience guessing right along with the cast.

Even the characters discuss the morbidity of the tontine. Yet with each passing, we learn more about the living, and even more about the deceased. We watch them as their lives have changed and their perspectives have changed, and we catch up on each woman as they catch up with each other.

Actors Verlene Oates, Lisa Leonard, Julie Oliver, Jennifer Kuzma, and Judy McCord embody the spirits of their characters, each with her own quirks and strengths. Director Lucia Foster, producer Dannibeth Farnum, and stage and lighting designer Rose Davis use the Burning Coal stage as a simple backdrop to allow the ladies’ personalities and relationships to stay in the forefront. We enjoyed getting to know them better with each passing scene. It was like getting to know new friends!

From the Department of Picky-Picky: There are old photographs projected onto the wall behind the action to give the audiences glimpses of the actual Woodstock concert and of the era. Even though we liked the idea and think it has promise, its execution definitely needs some fine-tuning. The images shown were unsteady, bumped up and down, out-of-focus, and ended up on the ceiling at times. We think that a white screen and steady hand are in order to better achieve the desired result.

This play is a perfect offering for the Woman’s Theatre Festival. It features excellent performances from new and seasoned actresses; and the show’s themes will appeal to the young and young-at-heart as it touches on friendship, life changes, being yourself, and accepting friends, warts and all.

SECOND OPINION: July 10th Raleigh, NC Triangle Review review by Shannon Plummer-White, click

The Women’s Theatre Festival presents THE WOODSTOCK TONTINE at 8 p.m. July 14 and 15 and 3 p.m. July 16 in Burning Coal Theatre Company‘s Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604, near the Historic Oakwood Section.

TICKETS: $18.59, including service fee.


INFORMATION: 919-740-2736 or

SHOW:,, and

WTF SPOTLIGHT ARTICLE (by Bronwen Mischel):




The Woodstock Tontine (play): (official website), (WTF page), and (Facebook page).

Steffi Rubin (Chapel Hill, NC-based playwright): and (Facebook pages) and (Twitter page).

Lucia Foster (Durham, NC-based director): (Facebook page).


Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.