Two new plays open in Portland this week, one about our fascination with stuff, the other about what happens to a family when their son is a school shooter.

Bare Portland presents the premiere of its original play “[Storage]” at the Stevens Square Community Center, formerly the Maine Girls’ Academy, beginning Thursday night. Dramatic Repertory Company presents the premiere of “The Mother,” written by Lynne Conner, a former Maine playwright now living in North Carolina, beginning Friday at the Studio Theater at Portland Stage.

Bare Portland recently received a $5,000 Kindling Fund grant to support its project. It began almost two years ago when members of the theater company acquired a storage unit, full of someone else’s stuff, that had gone up for auction. Company members developed the play based on what they found inside and the process of discovery associated with it. A writing team of Douglas W. Milliken, Christina W. Richardson and Marissa Sophia Schneiderman collaborated on the script, and a cast of four will perform. But a dozen artists shaped the project, said production manager Catherine Buxton.

Director James Patefield compared it to a Samuel Beckett or Caryl Churchill play “where not a ton happens, but within the interactions of the characters, so much happens.”

“[Storage]” began with a curiosity among company members to explore our culture’s relationship with material things and its transient nature. As people, we tend to move around a lot and leave our stuff behind, Buxton said.

Company members decided to bid for a storage unit and see if they could make a play about it. And they did – a 75-minute, one-act play with four characters who represent versions of the person who collected the stuff in the unit. The play explores broad themes and issues raised by the unpacking of the storage unit, including nostalgia, wonder, religion and rage.

But it’s all very complicated. For one, Bare Portland was outbid in its attempt to buy the unit. It negotiated with the buyer for the things he didn’t want. But more significant than that, they quickly realized the moral and ethical dilemma around making art with it. “It’s legally ours, but ethically, it made us feel gross to think about exposing or solving the mystery of the person who collected this stuff,” Patefield said. “It was a question about how to treat someone’s stuff. Someone cared enough about it to collect it and organize it and keep it. We have to respect that, and we did not want to make a judgment call on what was kept.”

Bare Portland presents “[Storage]” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; March 11-15; and March 18-21, at Stevens Square Community Center, 631 Stevens Ave., Portland; $10 to $20, bare-portland.ticketleap.com/storage

Lynne Conner was always troubled by the media coverage of Nancy Lanza, the mother of the perpetrator of the Newtown school shootings in Connecticut. The gunman killed his mother as part of his crime, and the media reports that followed immediately and as time passed sat awkwardly with Conner. It turns out, Nancy Lanza had purchased the guns her son used in the killings.

“I was struck by how I kept hearing the phrase ‘the mother’ in the media coverage of that horrific event,” Conner said. “People kept talking about ‘the mother,’ and it got me thinking about the way we are always looking for the reason something like this happens. It’s human psychology. If we don’t have a reason to explain the horror, how do we get up in the morning? It’s been a pattern in history to look at parenting and to look at mothering and to ask, ‘What went wrong?’ ”

From that perspective, Conner delved into the subject. The result is “The Mother,” which DRC will premiere beginning this weekend. Lisa Muller-Jones directs a cast of Abigail Killeen, Mary Fraser, David Pence, Nolan Ellsworth, Michela Micalizio, Robbie Harrison and Molly W. Bryant Roberts.

Conner began working on the play while she was a professor at Colby College in Waterville. She now teaches theater at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

The play explores what happens to a family in the wake of a shooting, Muller-Jones said. It’s told in 42 short scenes, presented in a nonlinear manner. The title character is played by two actors, one before the shooting and one after. Many other members of the cast play multiple roles. Conner’s script examines the role of suicide, the concept of aggrieved masculinity, and who gets blamed for acts of violence. She doesn’t necessarily provide the answers, but creates a framework where the cast and audience can explore the questions together.

“It’s a conversation that a mother has with herself, who is searching desperately for hope and forgiveness, before and after her son committed this act of going back to his school and killing some students and himself,” Muller-Jones said. “She is searching for hope and searching for meaning out of fragmented memories of what is happening currently and what has happened in the past. How do you go on?”

She called Conner’s script provocative and compelling. “I have never seen voices in somebody’s head played out in dialogue in this way,” she said.

The script is entirely fictional, and based on a lot of research, Conner said. She read many manifestos of school shooters, as well as notebooks and diaries.

The play, she said, is a journey toward grace. The shooter is dead, but the mother remains. She still must face the world and, ultimately, face herself.

DRC presents “The Mother” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday and March 11-15 at the Studio Theater at Portland Stage, 25A Forest Ave., Portland; $10 to $25; dramaticrep.org or 800-838-3006

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: