An innocuous red woolen sock stuffed with a brass pipe, gunpowder, sugar and a flashlight battery are the ingredients for a tale that terrorized New York City in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Put them all together and they are the ignition for “Mad Bomber,” the subject of a world premiere musical at Waterbury’s Seven Angels Theatre until Sunday, June 26.
If you had a legitimate grievance against a company, your employer, and after hundreds of letters and phone calls, you still could get no justice, would you resort, in desperation, to a louder noise to get attention? Journalist Charles Monagan and composer Richard DeRosa have finally given George Metesky a voice, a musical voice at that, to explain his frustration when he could not get the Con Edison Company to acknowledge its responsibility in his claim for disability.
John T. Swanson plays George, an impassioned man seeking justice, not only for himself but for all workers injured by the system. In 1931, while at work, George Metesky was gassed in an explosion, leading him to suffer pneumonia and tuberculosis.
His demands for compensation for his injuries, which caused permanent disability (where is the Aflac duck when you need him?), went unanswered. To call attention to his cause, which was now a mission and obsession, he began building bombs and leaving them at Con Edison buildings. When these were ignored, he escalated his exposure by placing them in more visible locations: Macy’s, Radio City Music Hall, Penn Station, the New York Library and assorted movie theaters. Suddenly George Metesky had the attention of a terrified city and became the focus of a massive police manhunt.
While his sisters Anna (Jeannine Gallmeyer) and Mae (Joyce Jeffrey) knew nothing about George’s activities, the mayor of New York City (Tom Chute), the Commissioner of Police (Todd A. Little) and a doctor who profiled criminals (Walter Cramer) were doggedly following clues. Seven city newspapers kept the story sizzling, especially a dedicated Sally Jo Dorman, played by a lovely Cassie Okenka, from the Journal American and her rival and ultimate love interest Billy Breen, played by a gallant Bobby Gouse. Semina De Laurentis directs this rousing true story of a Waterbury man.
Elizabeth Metesky Barry reflected recently on her great-uncle George. She was born just as he was arrested. His release from a mental institution occurred sixteen years later when they both got their driver’s licenses issued in the same week. Elizabeth never learned George’s story from her family until many years later.
When it happened, the family was ostracized by the neighbors, pointed at, whispered about and threatened by “crazy” phone calls. She recalls it was all “hush-hush.” While in elementary school, her mother fought to be sure a book about George was banned from the school library, to protect Liz and her brother from taunts and teasing.
Ironically Liz’s brother is in possession of all George’s meticulously kept diaries and home videos and he would like a book written about great-uncle George now. Whereas their parents were shamed by the incident, the next generation only knew him as a “generous gentleman, perfectly normal, dapper in a suit and tie, very intelligent and mellow” who celebrated family weddings and holidays with them over the years. He died at age 91 in Torrington.
Interestingly, George Metesky was an inventor and prior to his arrest he was set to patent a fuel-injected motor that he built in the garage at his home on 4th Street in Waterbury. Liz remembers when she was 6 to 9 years old traveling to New York with her father, brother and aunts. They would stop at a building and the aunts would go inside while her father took the children off on an adventure, followed by dinner in Litchfield on the way home.
Liz didn’t know until her late 20’s that the aunts were visiting George at a mental hospital. Recently her brother, who is a steel worker, was learning how to make fireworks with a professional instructor and needed to have a pipe welded. The man who did it mentioned the story of the Mad Bomber as he was soldering the pipe.
While Liz’s parents were shamed by the story, Liz and her brother have “embraced” it. Still Waterbury is a small closely- knit community and when George died, the family had a private ceremony and nothing was put in the newspapers.
Still George’s legacy lives on. When a cousin tried to join the police force, George was used as an example of how profiling works and the police referred to the Mad Bomber in their attempts to catch the Unabomber. Now there is a world premiere musical at Seven Angels Theatre that is focusing a spotlight on George Metesky to showcase his story.
For tickets ($29-$50, $10 for students 21 and under with ID), call Seven Angels Theatre, Plank Road, Hamilton Park Pavilion, Waterbury at 203-757-4676 or online at www.sevenangelstheatre.org (just off I-84). Performances are Thursday at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Let Charles Monagan and Richard DeRosa lead you on a frenzied chase to capture the “Mad Bomber” from the crowded streets of Manhattan to a quiet corner of Waterbury, Connecticut.
Leave a comment, your name and e-mail address and enter to win a pair of tickets to the Saturday, June 25, 8 p.m. performance. Winners will be randomly selected and notified by Thursday, June 23.