Drawn in by the storied hallways and eerie atmosphere of Binghamton State Hospital, Elizabeth Mozer, an associate professor of theatre at Binghamton University, embarked on an investigation into a story that provoked her creative gears.
Titled “The Asylum Project,” Mozer’s upcoming play revolves around the life of Agnes Dutcheck and her journey to America, eventually focusing on her reunion with her separated son.
“I took a tour of it in August 2015, and when I was inside the building, I could feel the lives that had lived there — it was really potent,” Mozer said. “The woman who was giving us the tour told me a particular story about a mother and son that were separated for about 70 years.”
Mozer’s previous work, “Castle on the Hill,” was based on the Binghamton State Hospital and Agnes Dutcheck’s story and contained additional characters and plot elements. “The Asylum Project” sticks fairly close to Agnes’ true story.
“The Asylum Project” is a one-woman show, with Mozer performing five different roles. Although the show is written and directed by her, the theatre professor received additional feedback from colleagues, such as her mentor from New York City and other co-creators. She also used the production of “The Asylum Project” as a teaching tool in class, and allowed students to contribute to the play with some of their own writing.
To adjust the story to the stage, Mozer focused more on certain components of the story and added some minor variations. For example, Mozer altered the character of Agnes Dutcheck’s separated son, changing it to a daughter named Lena to accommodate her role.
Mozer’s research into the Binghamton story began with a People magazine article that explained Dutcheck’s journey to America and her reunion with her son. Extra information on her story came from interviews, books and additional research on Binghamton State Hospital.
Through her research, Mozer learned more about Dutcheck’s journey — she had been separated from her son for 70 years because of her husband. In 1925, Agnes’ family suffered from a house fire that she and her child barely escaped from. Following the fire, Dutcheck descended into mental torment, as she may have had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and possible brain damage from the incident. Her husband abandoned her in Binghamton State Hospital and took their son to New York City. The father lied and told the son his mother had died. The children of the son, curious about where their grandmother had been buried, discovered that she had never died and informed their father.
“I heard about this story, and it was just chills,” Mozer said. “I was riveted by the story — I couldn’t forget it — and there was a People magazine article written about it. I read that article, and I was just crying. And I had to make a play about this.”
“The Asylum Project” is being shown at the Cherry Artspace at 102 Cherry St. in Ithaca, New York on Oct. 26 at 3:30 p.m. and on Nov. 2 and 3 at 7:30 p.m. The Ithaca showings are part of the Listen to Her Festival. The play is also being shown in New York City at the United Solo Theatre Festival on Oct. 12 at 6 p.m.