2015-01-15 / Around Town

Pickens Packed for PBS Premiere

By James Merolla


Kristin Banz, Ashley Schelcher and Kimberly Tiernan (left to right) gathered at the Jane Pickens Theater Jan. 4 to enjoy the Season 5 premiere of PBS' period drama "Downton Abbey" on the big screen. (Photo by James Merolla) Kristin Banz, Ashley Schelcher and Kimberly Tiernan (left to right) gathered at the Jane Pickens Theater Jan. 4 to enjoy the Season 5 premiere of PBS' period drama "Downton Abbey" on the big screen. (Photo by James Merolla) Fascination with the lives of the Gilded Age rich took on a much different meaning in Newport on Jan. 4.

About 150 devoted fans brought their tiaras and appetites to the Jane Pickens Theater for British desserts and an even more delicious sampling of the Season 5 premiere of “Downton Abbey” on the big screen.

The Emmy and Peabody Awardwinning series that dramatically depicts the lives of the fictional Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, his family, his servants, their suitors and scandals, in Britain during 1917- 1924, is the most watched show in PBS history. Its 2014 finale garnered some 13.2 million viewers.

This is the third year that Kathy Staab, owner of Jane Pickens, has celebrated the opening of the “Abbey.”

"Anything British seems to resonate here,” said Staab. "We did a Royal Wedding event at 5:30 in the morning and had 250 people show up. They dressed for a wedding, although one man wore his pajamas."

“I just felt, once again, the Downton Abbey event would be a fun thing to do. We’re pretty creative in our programming. I like coming up with these concepts and they seem to work.”

It certainly worked to shape the diversity of the crowd, which included U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Ashley Schelcher, Kimberly Tiernan and Kristin Banz, all Navy wives, came together. “I have no television,” said Schelcher, who moved here recently from Monterrey, Calif. “I’m here with other Downton Abbey lovers. It’s like a movie’s opening night, like for ‘Harry Potter.’ ”

“It’s like the Super Bowl,” added Banz.

“Also, Newport is mentioned a couple of times in the show,” added Schelcher. “Cora’s (Lady Grantham’s) mother owns a home in Newport.”

Jeff Clark of Newport had a more personal reason for attending. “The first season was great. I love PBS,” said Clark. “My dad was a real PBS-aholic. That first year I called him and said, ‘Did you just see Downton Abbey?’ and he agreed it was awesome. The show was something we shared."

Cindy Opaluch of Wakefield hoped for a more upbeat season. She, like most female fans, has not recovered from the sudden death of the handsome and charming Matthew Crawley, husband of Mary, the main love interest in the show.

“It’s still hard to get over the loss of Matthew,” said Opaluch. “Last season wasn’t that much fun. It will be great to see it on the big screen and to be among all these people who are also big fans.”

When the theater went dark at 9 p.m., there were whoops and hollers from the crowd. It was a stirring episode, with five main plot points:

. Molesley, the mousy butler, dyed his hair to look younger. This turned out to be a source of great laughter, the running gag of the evening.

. Edith, visiting the tenant farmer who is keeping her daughter, is a wreck trying to devise a way to become part of her daughter’s life.

. Mary seems to be warming up to her most ardent suitor. Her prize line: “I do love you in my cold, unfeeling way.”

. Daisy, the simple maid, wants to learn math to be more than she is.

. Edith nearly burns the house down by tossing a book once owned by her lover into the open fireplace, then dozing off.

When the premiere ended, the audience shouted, “More! More!”

The Navy wives were thrilled. "I thought it was great and so much funnier than last year,” said Schelcher.

“I enjoyed the theater, being with these people, and all the laughter,” said Opaluch.

But the perfect summation of the night’s festivities came from Clark:

“Two of my favorite things,” he said. “Lemon squares and Maggie Smith.”

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