True story of Ilasco sisters enacted in new play

“The Insane Sisters or the Price Paid for Challenging a Company Town,” opened June 20 at Bluff City Theater in Hannibal. It was performed by, from left, Gale Rublee, Mindy Shaw and Clark Cruikshank, pictured with Gregg Andrews, who wrote the book enacted in the play.
By Bev Darr, Hannibal Courier-Post Reporter
Posted: Jun. 21, 2019 1:44 pm

Hannibal audiences will have a unique opportunity until the end of June, as Bluff City Theater presents the true story of a controversial event 100 years ago in Hannibal.

The play, “The Insane Sisters or the Price Paid for Challenging a Company Town,” opened with a preview performance Thursday, June 20, at the Theater, 212 Broadway.

It will be presented at 7:30 p.m. today, June 22, and repeated at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 26, through Saturday, June 29. On both Saturdays there will also be a matinee performance at 2 p.m.

Tickets are offered online at eventshannibal.com or by phone at 573-719-3226.

In connection with Hannibal's bicentennial, the Bluff City Theater's 2019 season is following the theme, The American Experience, according to Joe Anderson, artistic producer and executive director.

Local actor Clark Cruikshank, who portrays all the men in the play, including Mark Twain, also wrote the script. It is based on the book by Gregg Andrews of Hannibal.

It tells the story of how two sisters lost everything, including their freedom, when they challenged the trinity of corporate interests, community leaders and the unstoppable power of social progress,” Anderson said. The story began in 1903, when Atlas Portland Cement Company built a plant in the small community of Ilasco, south of Hannibal.

In 1910, when Mollie Heinbach inherited her husband’s tract of land that formed much of the proposed town-site, her inheritance was challenged in court on the grounds that she had exerted undue influence on her husband while he was in the advanced stages of alcoholism.

The play chronicles the seven-year legal battle between Mollie, her sister, Euphemia “Feemy” Koller, and those who sought control of the land. It traces the dire consequences the sisters suffered at the intersection of gender, class and the law.

Portraying the sisters are Gale Rublee as Euphemia “Feemy” Koller and Mindy Shaw as Mollie Heinbach.

Andrews and his wife, author Vikki Bynum, attended the opening night performance. He later explained he grew up in Monkey Run near the former town of Ilasco, and while doing research for his book, “City of Dust,” about Ilasco he learned about the sisters who faced so many challenges while attempting to keep their property.

Reporting this is the 20thanniversary of publication of “The Insane Sisters,” Andrews had attended a play rehearsal and said, “I'm delighted to see such a brilliant adaptation of the book on the stage. It's very true to the story.”

Andrews' sister, Cheryl Genovese, declared the play “wonderful” after the closing act. She noted her late mother and aunt, Carolyn Fletcher, had both known the sisters, adding Fletcher had told her Feemy (Koller) had loved birds and had a lot of birds.

After the play, Kristie Darley, who is related to Andrews, said, “It was heartbreaking the way the women were victimized. They actually won in the court, but were victimized by being declared insane.”


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