The crowd broke into applause multiple times Wednesday night during the sold-out screening of filmmaker Jim Sharkey’s latest documentary. A benefit for the American Irish Repertory Ensemble, the showing and the cocktail party that preceded it took place at Lucid Stage in Portland (which is located in the quonset hut building near Hannaford).

The film chronicles the behind-the-scenes work that went into producing AIRE’s 2010 production of “Juno and the Paycock,” a well-known Irish tragedy written by Sean O’Casey.

“I tried to get the rights to show their performance,” Sharkey told me during the cocktail party. However, he was never able to track down whoever owns the film rights to the play, and so he couldn’t use any footage of the performance or the actors rehearsing their dialogue.

“I said what am I going to do?” Sharkey told me.

So he set aside the footage for a time, unsure how to proceed. But one aspect of the production stuck with him: The rapid dismantling of the set once the curtain came down on the final performance.

“I thought what a pity it can’t go on,” Sharkey told me.

“It’s almost like leaving home when you take down your set,” added Sharkey, who was born in the U.S. but grew up in Ireland. He now lives Brunswick.

Later, when he spoke to the audience of more than 75 people, he said, “I especially remember when I left Ireland. It’s similar to taking down your own set when you leave a place.”

Building on this idea, he wove footage shot during his Irish childhood into the film. Cutting between the old and the new footage, he explores the idea that the production of a play is a metaphor for the stages of life. The result is the documentary “8 Weeks in March.”

All the actors I spoke with said Starkey was a delightful addition to their undertaking.

Actor Paul Haley, who played Joxer Daly in the performance, told me “it was very easy” to have Sharkey filming. “He was very unobtrusive,” Haley added.

“Jim is one of the kindest, sweetest people I’ve ever known,” said actress Maureen Butler, who played Juno. “He’s an amazingly positive presence. He always made us feel great about the work we were doing.”

AIRE was founded by Tony and Susan Reilly, who moved to South Portland from New York City and started the theater company in 2003. The couple remains the driving force behind the company’s productions.

“Jim was at pretty much every rehersal,” Susan told me. “He’s got a great deal of passion about what he does.”

And while Susan and the actors had praise for Sharkey, the theater’s patrons lauded AIRE.

“The theater community in Portland is just top-notch,” Kitty Coughlin of Cape Elizabeth told me. “Tony and Susan are treasures.”

She and her husband, Randall Weill, moved to Maine more than two decades ago and make a point to see all of AIRE’s productions.

“This is why we selected this area to live,” Coughlin said. “It’s a long winter and the arts are what get you through.”

Like Sharkey and the Reillys, Coughlin and Weill left a home behind to start a new life in Maine. In doing so they took down one set, but assembled another.

As Sharkey says in the documentary, “there is no permanence to life. It is ever changing.”

Here in Maine we’d say that’s the way life should be. 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

akamila@pressherald.com

Follow her on Twitter at:

Twitter.com/AveryYaleKamila