The last time Sarah Lord hopped on the boards at Portland Stage, in 1998, she was a hot-shot young local amateur working with a bunch of New York professionals.
By all accounts, the teenage Lord stole the show. “The Loman Family Picnic” was a huge hit, and she was singled out for her outstanding work.
Lord, who grew up in South Portland, is back at Portland Stage this month, starring in “Hidden Tennessee,” a two-act showcase of short plays and a dramatic short story by iconic American playwright Tennessee Williams.
This time around, Lord is the New York professional coming home to show the locals how it’s done. But you will never catch her boasting such things. She’s thrilled to be back at Portland Stage, and humbled that theater artistic director Anita Stewart and show director Sally Wood extended an invitation to work at her home theater.
“Coming home to work has its own pressures,” she said with a laugh before a rehearsal last week.
A few nights before this interview, Lord and the rest of the cast went through a technical rehearsal. Lord said she has rarely been more nervous than she was with Stewart sitting in the front of the theater taking notes. It was Stewart, after all, who helped her gain the confidence she needed to make the move to New York and pursue theater as a career.
“Steven Spielberg could have been in the room, and I would not have cared as much as Anita being there. It’s because I respect so much the people here and the work that goes on here. I want to make them proud and make the people here proud,” she said. “I want to do good work in New York, too. But it’s different when it’s the people you have known your whole life.”
To be sure, Lord is doing great work in New York. She has made her living as a working actress there for the past decade. She is modest about her accomplishments, saying only that she continues “plugging away” in the Big Apple. But last year, she worked seven straight months in theater, which is no small accomplishment. She hopes to make the move to Los Angeles in the next year or so to pursue film and TV projects.
Lord gets back to Maine once or twice a year, usually to visit family and friends. Coming back to work on the Portland Stage mainstage has been a different kind of fun. She spent last week answering emails and Facebook messages from friends and teachers who wanted to reconnect.
And for old times’ sake, she begged her mom for rides to and from the theater, just as she did as a young girl when she had a bit part in Portland Stage’s very first production of “A Christmas Carol.”
“I don’t have a car, and I don’t drive. I feel like a 15-year-old kid – ‘Mom, can you pick me up at the theater?’ “
Now in her late 20s, Lord’s experience as a youth at Portland Stage, Mad Horse and other local theater companies cemented her decision to pursue theater professionally.
“I knew I wanted to act when I was 10 years old in my first-ever play,” she said. “I was in ‘Pinocchio’ at the Children’s Theater of Maine. That was it. From that point on, I was always in plays. It was quite a natural progression to come here to Portland Stage even as a kid.”
She admits it feels oddly comforting to come into the building on Forest Avenue every day. It reminds her very much of those early years during rehearsals for “A Christmas Carol.”
Back then, she and her acting friends discovered every nook and cranny of the building. She had fun rediscovering those old hiding spots “and the same evocative qualities” of the building during the rehearsal process for “Hidden Tennessee.”
This is her first experience with Tennessee Williams. “Hidden Tennessee” combines three short plays and a short story, interwoven with biographical material about the playwright. It’s presented in two acts, with a cast of four. Lord appears prominently in two of the pieces – the one-act “This Property Is Condemned” and the short story “The Field of Blue Children.”
She’s thrilled to finally have the opportunity to work on a Williams piece. “He is one of the best playwrights, if not ever, then certainly in American theater. There are not a lot of roles for little old me in a lot of his best works, so this is a very special opportunity.”
Not surprisingly, Lord’s first theater experience with Williams came at Portland Stage. She watched from the audience when it presented “The Glass Menagerie” many moons ago. She also saw “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Mad Horse.
She feels grateful for the chance to work in Portland again.
“The talent in the theater community here has always been amazing,” she said. “Working in Portland is what gave me such a great foundation, and prepared me for working in New York.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: