Reading a play, or at least knowing some details about it, beforehand can enhance the enjoyment of seeing it performed. But going in “blind” can also be fun. You might miss a line here and there, but there’s an excitement inherent in not knowing what’s coming next.

The Maine Playwright’s Festival, presented by Acorn Productions and now in its 11th year, offers ample opportunity for the latter experience. Dozens of new plays, selected from 90 submissions this year, will be presented over the course of its run. Many new and established writers, directors, actors and technical people are participating in bringing this impressive creative venture to life.

Though there were already some staged readings held at the Acorn Studio Theater in Westbrook, this year’s festival officially got under way Thursday night at St. Lawrence Arts in Portland with a program of five short plays. The works ranged from silly to serious and from folksy to fantastic, with a stop in politics along the way.

The evening began on the silly side with David Vardeman’s “A Depressed Childhood,” a lampoon of psychoanalysis that might remind some of Mel Brooks at his zany best. Cory King plays a quick-witted shrink who is always one step ahead of his patients, played by Cynthia Eyster and Amanda Painter. Director Stephanie Ross kept things broad with the focus on such burning questions as what constitutes a “naked” panda.  It’s definitely a fun piece.

Patricia Mew’s “He Touched Me” took things decidedly into more somber territory, with MK Spain playing a woman suffering from post-partum depression with all its manifestations and, in this case, extreme consequences.  Director Michael Levine added some nice touches to sustain an ominous feel to a piece that might rush just a bit in reaching its sensational climax. Still, strong acting by Spain and Painter gave the play real power.

Laurie Brassard’s “It’s Just Not Polite,” directed by Shawna Houston, nibbles at ideas of class conflict.  Set in the kitchen of a summer home where a caterer, played with arresting spirit by Kara Haupt, enlists an apparent interloper (Jess Leighton) to help her prepare canapés for a party, the play suggests that trendy dissidents may not always understand what they’re about.

“A Road That Happened To Be Broken” by Jefferson Navicky was the most enigmatic piece on the program. Director Stephanie Ross set Beth Chasse and the other cast members in a puzzling realm between the natural and the symbolic, and the result was a play to be experienced as much as understood.

The evening finished on a delightful note with Maureen Ann Connolly’s “The Necrology Report,” directed by Harlan Baker. An older and a younger woman begin in light conversation but end with more thoughtful considerations of the journeys that lives take. Muriel Kenderdine was excellent, with numerous deadpan observations on, well, the dead, and Painter finished out a busy night with a touch of wistfulness.

These plays will be performed again during the festival and their quality bodes well for the festival as a whole.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland
Look for the full review in the Portland Press Herald.