April 14, 2011

Festival gets it right for playwrights

The Maine Playwrights Festival runs through the end of April at the St. Lawrence Arts Center.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Until last year, Jefferson Navicky didn't consider himself a playwright. He had what he calls a "solitary, unexplainable" interest in writing plays and experience writing fiction and poetry.

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M.K. Spain in “The Rope Swing”

Photos courtesy Maine Playwrights Festival

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Hal Cohen and Andrew Sawyer in “The Last Fish in the Sea”

Additional Photos Below


WHEN: Through April 29

WHERE: St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St., Portland

HOW MUCH: $16 adults; $14 students and seniors

INFO: 854-0065; acorn-productions.org


Schedule A: "Aiming Off" by Larry Crane; "Class" by Marie Coyle; "Slice and Slow Time" by Kathy Hooke; "The Last Fish in the Sea" by Cullen McGough; "The Rope Swing" by Shannara Gillman. 7:30 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Saturday, 7:30 p.m. April 22, 5 p.m. April 23, 7:30 p.m. April 29.

Schedule B: "Infestation" by Jefferson Navicky; "In This Economy" by Isabel Stone; "Perfect Joe" by Lynne Cullen; "The Perils of Long-Term Care" by Michael Kimball; "Size Matters" by Michael Tooher. 7:30 p.m. Friday, 5 p.m. Saturday, 7:30 p.m. April 21, 8 p.m. April 23, 7:30 p.m. April 29.

ALSO: The 24-Hour Portland Theater Project will be at 6 and 8 p.m. April 30 at the St. Lawrence. Admission is $8.

But then he wrote an ambiguous play called "Lungfish," and it was selected as part of last year's Maine Playwrights Festival. Through that association, he met other playwrights and became part of one of Portland's least heralded but most active community of writers, the Playwrights Circle.

"The benefits of this group for me cannot be overstated," Navicky said. "It has developed into a supportive, professional group of friends who encourage the other members to progress in the theater."

Navicky joins other writers whose work will be produced at the Maine Playwrights Festival, which runs through the end of April at the St. Lawrence Arts Center in Portland. Now in its 10th year, the festival is presented annually by Acorn Productions, the Westbrook-based arts nonprofit.

Navicky's entry this year is a play called "Infestation," about a couple whose relationship is threatened by a fruit-fly infestation.

The festival gives playwrights the chance to have their work produced with actors and directors in front of an audience. That is not something small and slight, noted Acorn artistic director Mike Levine.

Most playwrights are a lot like Navicky and his peers. They toil anonymously and mostly alone, rarely if ever having a chance to show their work to the public.

"We want to give them a chance. We give them everything they need -- actors, directors, rehearsal time and an audience. Those are very useful things for the playwright," Levine said.

Portland has an active community of playwrights. That is evidenced by this annual festival, which routinely attracts dozens of scripts for consideration.

Acorn will produce a dozen plays at this year's festival, including 10 short plays that are in rotation in two groups of five beginning tonight through April 29 at the St. Lawrence.

Two full-length plays had staged readings earlier. The festival culminates with the second annual 24-Hour Portland Theater Project on April 30.

In addition to Navicky, the playwrights whose work will be presented are Marie Coyle, Kathy Hooke, Cullen McGough and Michael Tooher of Portland; Larry Crane of Southport; Lynne Cullen of Yarmouth; Shannara Gillman of Seal Harbor; Michael Kimball of Cape Neddick and Isabel Sterne of Cape Elizabeth.

There's no underestimating the importance of the festival in the development of new work, Hooke said.

"Acorn gives local playwrights an audience," she said. "That may sound like a simple thing, but a world in which you write and put the work in a drawer is a very different world from one in which you write, knowing that the work will be heard and commented on by knowledgeable and supportive individuals who are as serious about the work as you are."

Just as important -- if not more so -- are the friendships fostered by the festival. Audiences exist during the few weeks the festival is active, but the relationships among the playwrights extend deep into the community and last year-long, Hooke said.

She, too, is a member of the Playwrights Circle.

"Work by playwrights in the group is now being accepted for production by theater groups in other states," she said. "It's not my work -- not yet -- but because of the collaborative atmosphere out of which it came, I feel a part of it and inspired by it."

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:


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Additional Photos

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Bill McLean and Amanda Painter in “The Perfect Joe.”


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