Saturday, December 7, 2013
By now, we should not be surprised when the Freeport Players take artistic chances.
Herbert Taylor, left, and Ross McEwan in “Stars” by Cullen McGough.
E. Guffey photo
Karyn Diamond and Christopher J. Clemens in “Surprise” by Elizabeth Guffey.
Sam Hunneman photo
"CAN U REL8?"
WHERE: Freeport Performing Arts Center, 30 Holbrook St.
WHEN: Previews at 7:30 p.m. Thursday; opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday and continues at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Through Sept. 30.
HOW MUCH: Pay-what-you-can for Thursday preview; $10 in advance and $15 at door for all other shows
"I don't see how we can survive if we don't," said the community theater's managing and artistic director, Elizabeth Guffey. "If we are not doing things we feel passionately about, there is no point. That involves taking chances. We did 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' a few years ago, and nobody came. But we did it."
Last year, the company staged an original piece by Freeport resident Gar Roper, "Chanson: The Lives and Music of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel." That show drew good-sized crowds.
This week, the company opens a showcase of work written by Maine playwrights, "Can U Rel8?" -- eight short plays by John Cariani, Ray Dinsmore, Linda Britt, Cullen McGough, E.B. Coughlin and Guffey.
It's bold programming for any theater, and especially for a community theater. Generally, community theaters present plays and musicals with lots of name recognition.
But Guffey likes to take chances. She strives to balance her schedule with a mix of shows that she knows will draw big crowds with those that may be less familiar but are richly rewarding artistically.
"Our strategy is trying different things and seeing what people like," she said.
"Can U Rel8?" falls into the "richly rewarding" category -- and Guffey expects it will also draw good crowds. It previews Thursday, opens Friday, and runs through Sept. 30 at the Freeport Performing Arts Center.
Guffey thinks audiences will enjoy the short-play format. Each piece lasts about 10 minutes, and collectively, the plays add up to a full night of theater.
"I like the genre quite well. It's the short story of plays, tight and focused," Guffey said. "For the audience, it's nice to have that variety in an evening.
"It's a big investment of your time to come in and see a show you have no familiarity with. But there is bound to be something in the evening that you enjoy. It's a little like the Maine weather: Wait 10 minutes, and it will change."
When she put the evening together, Guffey did not set out to highlight Maine playwrights. She was simply looking for a grouping of short plays that worked well together. As she made her decisions, she realized that all the plays she liked happened to be written by Mainers.
"What I was looking for were things that would be interesting for the actors and that would be entertaining to the audience and something they could relate to -- and that had a certain charm to them," she said.
Guffey's first pick for the series was "A Wish Upon a Star" by Cariani, a Tony Award-nominated actor and playwright who grew up in Presque Isle and now lives in New York. He is best known for writing "Almost, Maine" and "Last Gas," both of which received their premieres at Portland Stage Company.
Cariani wrote "A Wish Upon a Star" as a vignette for "Almost, Maine," but cut it from the original production. It is a tender conversation between two strangers, Guffey said.
The Freeport performance will mark the first time "A Wish Upon a Star" will be performed publicly, and sets the tone for the rest of the evening. Cariani has a knack for revealing the extraordinary importance of ordinary moments, and the other plays on the bill offer similar revelations: A young couple receiving life-changing news; a parent going on her first date since her divorce; a mother and daughter watching a movie together.
A playwright herself, Guffey met Cariani at a playwriting workshop he taught at the Stonington Opera House. She met some of the playwrights whose work will be featured in the Freeport show at that event, and others at various theater festivals and functions around Maine.
The roster of playwrights ranges from veterans such as Cariani to newcomers such as Coughlin, a 16-year-old from Cape Elizabeth. Her piece, "The Way It Is," represents her first attempt at writing a play.
"They (the plays) are not big comedies or sad dreams. There are thoughtful relationship pieces in there, and there is some humor in there," Guffey said. "But it's a nice mix."
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: