New voices

Acorn’s latest Maine Playwrights Festival
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  April 21, 2010

FROM PROGRAM TWO Michael Kimball’s Brownwater Legend. Photo: CLYDE MCCULLEY

For nearly a decade now, Maine playwrights have had a fine friend and benefactor in Acorn Productions. Its Maine Playwrights Festival is now in its ninth year of producing locally written plays chosen from among submissions to an open call. This year’s festival includes one full-length play, Jan Paetow’s Solitary Dancers (directed by Michael Levine), and two programs of shorts. Program Two, directed by Julie Goell, features work by Kathy Hooke, Delvyn Case, Laura Emack, and Michael Kimball. Reviewed here is Program Three, directed by Levine.

In Eric Worthley’s The Day After the Incident, young dudes Don (Kip Weeks) and Wilson (Eric Lindgren) do breakneck damage control on cell phones after their respective shenanigans of the night before. Clever staging starts each one-sided conversation among us in the audience, and then Weeks and Lindgren deliver staggered rapid-fire half-revelations of, among other things, one woman with a sword and another with an eyepatch. Worthley’s script is lean, peppery, and very sharply executed, and Weeks and Lindgren get the stylized hipster phrasing just right. My favorite line, delivered with just the right shit-eating grin of innuendo by Lindgren: “Well, from there things just got playful.”

Next up in the program is Hugh Aaron’s A Topnotch Man, set in the “opulently furnished” office of Phil (Jay Bourbon). To Phil’s chagrin, the secretary has sent in Cal (John Kerr), his aging and dissolute former professor; histories and grievances rise around Cal’s request for money and Phil’s resistance. Though Phil’s arc could be drawn with a little more emphasis, Aaron endows the two men with thoughtful ambivalence.

Ambivalence is rich and lyrical in Jefferson Navicky’s Lungfish, part of a larger work that here stands alone as a sensitive and haunting character study. Corrigan (Denis Fontaine) is a prominent but aging choreographer living in the West Village with a younger man, James (Nick Schroeder), who indulges a sort of luxurious bitterness towards him. When the self-absorbed Corrigan off-handedly reveals an indiscretion he committed with a young child, shifts and drifts result. In a characterization achieved by inflection and imagery (Corrigan remembering a caught fish’s “marble eye with a touch of panic”), Navicky paints Corrigan’s aging waste and stasis, the pathos of his desperation for “vertigo.”

Then follows Michael Tooher’s now I lay me down to sleep. This rather harrowing work presents a couple (Kip Weeks and MK Spain) dealing with the death of their newborn, and the woman (Christine Leach) who comes to photograph the dead baby as a means of grief therapy. This piece definitely pushes some emotional buttons and presents a paralyzing depth of grief, though its resolution feels more like consciousness-raising than dramatic catharsis.

The program’s tone takes a turn for the farcical after intermission, when we’re treated to Blaise Titus’s Pythonesque Neighbors. When the power goes out, Ted (Eric Lindgren) is interrupted at his computer from some sort of virtual date (this is insufficiently explained) in England with his girlfriend. A second interruption comes in the form of a Detective (Denis Fontaine), who fills his head with wackily urgent ideas about the aliens upstairs. Titus’s script builds beautifully and zippily toward its logical extremes, and features some delicious moments when the Detective tries to rile up Ted, making him admit that he listens to their aurally strange alien copulations.

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