David Treadwell

David Treadwell

My acting career peaked early. It was in 1956, to be exact, when I played the role of Algernon Montcrieff in Oscar Wilde’s farcical comedy, “The Importance of Being Earnest.” In fairness, there was little competition among 9th grade boys for acting roles at Parkersburg (W.Va.) High School in the 1950’s. At that time, being “cool” meant playing football or basketball or, if you were not the athletic type, wearing a ducktail haircut (”ducktail” was also referred to as DA for “duck’s ass”) and rolling cigarette packs in the sleeve of your tee shirt.

I can’t say I caught the acting bug, but I did land roles later in “Our Town” and “Annie Oakley” at Mount Pleasant High School in Wilmington, Delaware. At Mount Pleasant acting earned you some school cred and, a bonus, extra attention from the young ladies.

After bringing up a family and moving to the Boston area in the 1980’s, I caught the theatergoing bug. Tina and I have savored scores of memorable theatrical experiences over the last 30 years. On a one-week Arts Boston theater trip to London we saw eight plays in six days; highlights included “ Sunset Boulevard,” “ Phantom of the Opera” and “Starlight Express,” a rock musical featuring a special set to accommodate actors on roller skates. On our day off, we visited Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The American Repertory Theater in Cambridge featured many experimental plays in those days, one of which involved actors throwing (real) raw meat around a stage. I’m still waiting to learn why “Waiting for Godot,” by Samuel Beckett, merits an audience. We got to see one of the earliest performances of “The Vagina Monologues” at the Colonial Theater, which starred Eve Ensler, the play’s creator. We marveled at the powerful plays of August Wilson, an extraordinary African-American playwright (”Fences” and “ Joe Turner’s Come and Gone”). We treated our niece Nathalie, then a student at Tilton Academy in New Hampshire, to two plays (” Showboat” and “Blue Man Group”) on one memorable Saturday. And we were amazed by the quality of “Fiddler on the Roof,” staged by students at Acton- Boxborough High School; the playbills conveyed the feel of Broadway.

Since moving to Maine in 2002, our quest for all things theatrical has been well rewarded. The Maine State Music Theater tops the list for pure professionalism, year after year. The Portland Stage presents a fine mix of offerings, sometimes premiering plays which go on to NYC, such as “Almost Maine.” Good Theater ( Portland), Saco River Theater (Buxton) and Heartwood Regional Theater (Newcastle) consistently put on terrific productions. And Bowdoin students somehow manage to take time from doing coursework to show off their theatrical talents.

Why theater? For me, theater offers the chance to get away from the everyday, either for pure entertainment (” The Music Man” and “The Mousetrap”) or to reflect upon the full range of human experiences: coming to terms (”Death of a Salesman” and “Sunset Boulevard”); the pull and poignancy of young love (”Romeo and Juliet,” “The Fantastiks” and “West Side Story”); and prejudice (”Raisin in the Sun” and “The Elephant Man”).

This past summer I closed a loop in a way. The first Broadway play I attended was the magnificent “Man of La Mancha,” which features such enduring songs as “The Impossible Dream,” “Dulcinea” and “Little Bird.” In August, I saw my son Jon make his theater debut in the play in an amateur production in Pennsylvania. (A reviewer noted that “Jon Treadwell did a nice job in his acting debut playing the eager prosecutor and the aging doctor.”).

Here’s a story which conveys the magic of live theater. About six years ago, we saw Heartwood Regional Theater’s stellar production of the “Glass Menagerie” at the Skidompha Library in Damariscotta. Right during the climactic scene, our dear friend’s cell phone went off; embarrassed, she quickly shut it off.

Three years later, I happened to be interviewing the actress who had played Laura in that production. “I’m sure you don’t remember,” I said, “ But my friend’s cell phone went off during a key part of the play.” Her eyes lit up and she broke into a big smile. “I loved that!” she said. “My dad had died and when the phone rang I imagined he was calling to tell me I was doing a good job.”


David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary as well as suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns. [email protected]

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