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Comedy rules the night in Westerly’s Guy Fawkes commemoration

WESTERLY — Cries of treason filled the air outside the Andrea on Saturday night, as more than 100 people crowded into the parking lot for the 16th annual Guy Fawkes Bonfire Night.

The event, which featured live music, theater and a bonfire, parodies the British commemoration of Guy Fawkes Day, the holiday that celebrates the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. Fawkes was caught while guarding barrels of gunpowder placed beneath Parliament in an assassination plot against King James I. The Nov. 5 holiday is celebrated in England with fireworks and bonfires.

“It’s kind of like our Fourth of July,” said Caswell Cooke Jr., creator of the Westerly event.

Cooke, a business owner and Town Council member, said he was inspired to start the event while working at the Andrea and realizing the need for a beachfront event on Columbus Day weekend. The first few years featured a comedic theater rendition of Fawkes’ trial, for which Cooke wrote the script based on historical documents. The bonfire was soon added for a flaming end, but it was not until 2004 that Cooke said the event became what it is today.

Cooke writes a new version of the play every year, which has only a vague remnant of historical accuracy amid references to pop culture, including the films “Airplane” and the “Monty Python” comedy series. The cast uses scripts during the performance to add to the comical effect, and Cooke said they usually rehearse only once on the same day as the event.

This year’s event featured a lobster in the cast. Queen “Judy Blue Eyes” was played by Emilie Buzzi, of Burrillville, a friend of Cooke’s who has participated as a member of the court in previous years.

Saturday night was her first time with a speaking role, but Buzzi said she had no qualms about performing.

“When I was a little girl, I used to always do this British accent and my mom thought it was hilarious,” she said. “I’m glad I can finally legitimately use that for this.”

The king was played by Chris DiPaola, a Westerly resident and owner of two local radio stations, who said he’s been involved in the event since the beginning.

While many actors, including members of the Misquamicut Players, concluded many lines with a heartfelt “God Save the King!” the audience was less than sympathetic, booing loudly at every mention of his name.

In response, the king repeatedly accused the crowd of treason, exerting his authority to try and punish anyone who insulted him.

The show also included performances from The Beach Band, who were known in this event as the King’s Crimson Jesters, and the Kentish Guards Fife & Drum Corps of East Greenwich, who played the British soldiers.

Portsmouth resident and corps member Chris Myers said his first event with the Kentish Guards was at Guy Fawkes night 10 years ago.

“We usually don’t do this type of event,” he said. “It’s purely just for fun, and we get to put on fake British accents.”

“It’s basically a Monty Python history lesson,” added Steve Squizzero, of North Scituate, also a member of the guard.

Sue Beaudoin, of South Kingstown, was among the many visitors who come regularly. This was her fourth year attending the event.

“My mom’s English, so I heard all about Guy Fawkes Day when I was a kid,” she said. “It’s such a fun event, and there’s always a different ending every year.”

Unlike Beaudoin, other onlookers said they had never heard of the holiday until the event.

Pamela Murray, of Westerly, said that after seeing a sign about the event near the Misquamicut beach, she immediately went online to look up information on Guy Fawkes.

“I had no idea what to expect of this,” she said.

Murray said she and her husband regularly attend performance events at the Chorus of Westerly, which are decidedly more serious. As for Guy Fawkes night, she said, “It’s quirky. There’s no other way to explain it.”

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