Inspired by the history behind the “First Folio” of Shakespeare’s work, a copy of which was on view at the Portland Public Library earlier this year, Kevin O’Leary’s “The Roles of a Lifetime” imagines the conversations between two actors and a printer as they try to secure a deal to preserve the “baskets, bundles and buckets” of scripts the actors have kept since the Bard’s death.

Rob Cameron and JP Guimont play the actors who had once worked with Shakespeare. They alternately describe each other as acquaintances, friends or partners, depending on the emotions of the moment. But they obviously have been close for a long time. Each questions the other’s motivations as back stories emerge and present day feelings grow raw. They both know which buttons to push to get the other unnerved.

Guimont’s Henry is a self-dramatizing ham who may have “mouthed it” on stage but nonetheless possesses true affection for his former employer, the Bard. Cameron’s John adopts the no-nonsense tone of a man who’s all business while being privately transported by the power of poetry.

The two played off each other very well on Saturday night, wittily bickering about the importance of the mission before them. Their character’s relationship gained considerable depth over the course of the one-act play.

Corey Gagne played the printer Blount as a practical business man who has his own quirky, but nonetheless heartfelt, appreciation for Shakespeare. His character’s offbeat references to the great plays drew consistent chuckles from the crowd.

O’Leary keeps the dialogue laced with allusions to those plays, while also introducing some well-developed riffs on backstage politics, the art of acting and the theater business in general.

Period costumes, English accents and bits of physical action added to the ambiance of a play that celebrates how the work of a great writer affects those who try to find “communion” with and through those “glorious words.”

There is no director listed for this production. O’Leary said in an e-mail, the company decided to experiment with this show and “self-direct.” At least for Saturday’s performance, that seemed to be working quite well.

 

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.