FRIENDLY FACES More than 50 local actors perform
in the 13th annual Maine Playwrights Festival.
This year marks the 13th incarnation of the Maine Playwrights Festival, the state’s largest event devoted to staging new works written exclusively by Maine writers. Acorn Productions, which created and has long produced the festival, presents its biggest line-up yet in a festival year that also sees some changes in both leadership and process. After opening last Thursday with a first program, the MPF continues for its second weekend on May 1-4, at the St. Lawrence Arts Center.
While the MPF’s premise and mission remain unchanged — to nurture the development of new locally written plays, as solicited and selected from an open call — the festival has undergone a shift in directorship: Acorn founder and longtime artistic director Michael Levine, who produced the MPF for 12 years, has stepped back from the project. Taking the helm in his stead are Executive Director Michael Tooher and Executive Producer Cullen McGough, both playwrights themselves. They are also founding members of the monthly meeting of playwrights and actors the Crowbait Club, at Mayo Street Arts, and recently produced the Crowbait best-of festival The King of Crows.
McGough and Tooher have brought a few changes to the festival. For one thing, the jury process is now conducted blind, by an outside group of 13 writers, theater artists, and critics (including this one) from across the state. Tooher and McGough also aimed to, in Tooher’s words, “blow the doors off the festival participation,” to bring in more submissions from throughout Maine. And the festival is indeed bigger in both number of plays and production scope, presenting 19 shows over both weekends (out of 83 submitted) and enlisting the work of 10 directors and — most logistically impressive — more than 50 actors. “We’ve made a conscious effort to invite people from companies all across the state to help staff and perform in the MPF,” says McGough. The 19 scripts staged by these artists represent a wide range of genres; Tooher praises them as “astonishing in their depth, variety and courage.”
As in previous years, the festival includes a showcase of short plays and the staged reading of one full-length play (Linda Brill’s What If…), along with last weekend’s “Monologathon” and this coming Sunday’s “24 Hour Theatre Project.” The first week’s program, billed as the “Alpha Show,” held plays by Jennifer Reck, Josh Brassard, Kathy Hooke, Jody McColman, Jefferson Navicky, Shirley Sergent, Howard Rosenfield, Pat Mew, Jo-Anne Walton, and Michael Kimball. Their shows ranged from Brassard’s altercation between Lucifer and a drunken God to Kimball’s verbal shoot-out in a gun-ban era saloon, and included Reck’s interstitial spoof on the ethnography of a New York theater audience (which was great fun — next year, I’d love to see something similar continued through the second program, perhaps sending up a Maine rather than a Big Apple theater audience).