Editor’s note: This week’s column was written by Dietrich Theater Program Coordinator Margie Young. Contributing Columnist Erica Rogler will return next week.
The final Open Mic of 2015 at the Dietrich Theater brought out five surprise entertainers including a song by host Angelo Maruzzelli, another singer, a ventriloquist, and a family of three playing ukuleles and a didgeridoo. Of course, attendees knew that the Everything Natural Drum Circle was the featured entertainment and they never disappoint, giving everyone the opportunity to join in. As for the didgeridoo, who would have expected to experience the sounds of this ancient wind instrument of the indigenous Australians, developed at least 1,500 years ago? That’s the fun of Open Mic. You never know who will show up to entertain you.
And speaking of entertainment, another free event is coming up at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8. Tom Flannery’s acclaimed play “Last Thoughts of Gino Merli” will be performed on the Dietrich Theater stage just in time to honor all veterans for Veterans Day. This one-man play will be performed by Bob Schleslinger of Scranton Public Theater, depicting Gino Merli, a local military hero toward the end of his life. Tom Flannery’s plays are not new to the Dietrich. Many will remember “God and the Ghost of Woody Guthrie,” “Five Women,” “Flying Girls” and “Mother Jones,” all produced right here at the Dietrich. Flannery’s plays are acclaimed for their fine writing and electrifying historical interest.
You may be familiar with the name Gino Merli. He was an American soldier and recipient of the Medal of Honor during World War II. Born in Scranton, Merli was the son of a coal miner who entered service in the United States Army from Peckville and served with the 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. As part of this division, he went ashore at Omaha Beach on D-Day on 1944 and participated in the Battle of the Bulge in December of the same year. It was on the evening of Sept. 4, 1944, near Sars la Bruyere, Belgium, that the company was attacked by a superior German force. Their position was overwhelmed, but PFC Merli stayed with his machine gun covering their retreat. When his position was overrun, he feigned death. Twice he fooled German soldiers into believing he was no longer a threat, only to attack them again when they left him for dead.
For his heroism on that night, PFC Merli received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Truman on June 15, 1945. In addition he received two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, the Battle of the Bulge Medal, and the Humanitarian Award of the Chapel of Four Chaplains for his actions during World War II.
In civilian life Merli took it upon himself to serve fellow veterans. He was an adjudication officer for the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Plains Township. He traveled to the Normandy Beaches in 1984 in the company of Tom Brokaw and was source of inspiration for Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation. The Veterans Center in Scranton is co-named for Merli and Joseph Sarnoski, another honored World War II veteran. And Gino Merli Drive, one of the main roads in Peckville, is also named for him.
“’The Last Thoughts of Gino Merli’ by Tom Flannery is not just a tribute to Gino Merli, but also a tribute to all the men and women who have put on the uniform of our country whether it be in war or peacetime and who have put themselves in harm’s way,” says Bob Shlesinger. “I am so proud to honor him and all veterans by playing Gino Merli.”
Admission is free and tickets are available by calling 570-996-1500 or at the door while they last. We would like to thank a friend of the Dietrich for underwriting this event.