Friday, June 27, 2003

A Roman candle: What it takes to set theater folk off

Published in the Portland Phoenix

What is the worst that could happen to a project you have worked hard on — so hard that you’ve fallen in love with it, can’t wait to show people, and are just dying to hear reactions to it? Such are the jitters backstage on the opening night of a play.

And what if you are the diva who has staked her reputation on this of all shows, the first by an unknown, a moving, brilliant work? What if it’s so avant-garde, in fact, that, by the end of the second act, even the playwright himself has begun to laugh and walk out? Such are the night terrors that stalk the stars.

How will you react? As Daedalus, staring stunned as Icarus falls to the sea, or as Sisyphus, who, no matter the certainty of futility, will continue to push that rock uphill? In Light up the Sky, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Moss Hart takes a swing at the cheapness and false sincerities that pervaded theater in the 1940s. We would now call that environment " Hollywood, " though Broadway is certainly not immune.

And yet the play retains a song of hope, of integrity, of comeuppance to theater types, of whom Hart was among the most celebrated. He may appear himself, somewhat, in the character of the sage playwright Owen Turner (Bob Dunbar), advising the young playwright on the realities of his newfound craft.

The main characters are all divas in their own ways. There is traditional swanning Irene Livingston (Dee Cooke); her mother, matronly superior Stella (Marie Cormier); overwrought and toujours-near-tears director Carleton Fitzgerald (George Dunn); wannabe top-diva Frances Black (Nikki Hunt); and even fiscal-rabbit-from-a-hat man Sidney Black (Scott Jones).

But none is more a spoiled diva than idealistic newcomer Peter Sloan. Sticking madly to his own ideas and keeping none but his own counsel, the playwright character, played with a light and loving touch by J.J. Barnett, remains aloof from all those who have put so much into making his writing real.

As opening night progresses and the play appears to bomb, the close-knit, passionate team self-destructs, leaving Sloan broken and bitter about the two-faced nature of his newfound " friends. " And yet comes the (ironic and to this one’s mind, frightening) awesome power of the least-seen of all theatrical forces: the reviewer.

The play within this play is an allegory, but so is the entire production, illuminating an essential part of the human condition by using metaphors and analogy. How quick people are to leave a ship perceived to be sinking, and how quick they are to leap aboard when its seaworthiness is proved!

Light up the Sky is about the theater world, complete with lessons on the etymology of " drama, " " theater, " and " audience. " There is sage advice from an experienced director, marketing tips from a man who knows his business, and the frustrated, beaten-down voice of the playwright.

Doree Austin is also an experienced director, who brings to the wings a strong background of wide range. The Gaslight’s marketing folks managed to draw a near-full house without so much as a sign outside. And Hart, of course, was ultimately far from frustrated but had his moments.

There are comic moments, well-delivered lines, and strong character exploration in this production. It would have been nice if Nikki Hunt, fresh from high school, had slowed her delivery a bit, but everyone else did a wonderful job in what approached an open-air performance on a hot night, and even Hunt remained a powerful presence on the stage.

The supporting cast, from unassuming Miss Lowell (Lynn Truman) to one drunk Shriner (Gary Wilson) and another more businesslike (Dan Collins), added an air of authenticity to this 1940s period play, topped off by the Irish accent on a Boston cop (Bob Witham).

Perhaps if we were still in the 1940s and ’50s, before entertainment reporters and gossip columnists showed the warts on the nation’s best-loved faces, the comic disbelief would be sharper. As it is, we know the infidelity — personal and professional — that breaks up shows, acts, and lives of the stars, and it is all too real.

Light up the Sky
Written by Moss Hart. Directed by Doree Austin. With Dee Cooke, George Dunn, Scott Jones, Marie Cormier and J.J. Barnett. At Gaslight Theater, in Hallowell, through June 28. Call (207) 626-3698.


• Hey! They rocked the house over there! The Cast — Craig Bowden, David A. Currier, and J.P. Guimont — along with Elizabeth Chambers, Shannon Campbell, Joshua Stamell, and Jeremy J. LeClerc, put on a fabulous festival of short plays and monologues by three top contemporary playwrights. Carefully selected and cleverly juxtaposed theatrical tidbits showed a vast range of humanity: a second try at a first date, and the secret lives of ironworkers, DMV staffers, the Hardy Boys, and a Mamet minister. Their bare-bones approach exposes the true shine of their acting talents. Seek out their work on other stages.

Jason Wilkins is working on a musical, Naked in Portland, that’s been in the works underground for over a year. A benefit CD is out, a fund-raising concert is coming up (July 24, 7:30 p.m., St. Lawrence, $10) and PSC intern R.J. McComish is on board as director. Word is some of the area’s top actors are being approached right now for parts. The run will be in September and October at the PSC Studio Theater. Watch this space for more.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Organic pest repellent with a hint of garlic

Published in the Current

They call their major piece of manufacturing equipment a “daiquiri machine.” In the development lab downstairs, three blenders sit empty on a countertop, with a bucket of crushed hot peppers and piles of garlic husks on the floor nearby.

This is not any sort of new-style restaurant. The “daiquiris” will be an insect repellent called “Anti-Pest-O,” manufactured from the peppers and garlic and dispensed into 55-gallon drums and shipped off-site for packaging and distribution.

Holy Terra Products has come a long way from the basement of Dr. Jim White’s Cape Elizabeth home, where the corporate headquarters, development lab, product mixing and garden-testing all were 18 months ago.

Their product, still waiting for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approval, is an all-natural, non-toxic insect repellent that is effective on a wide range of pests, if White’s own garden is any indication. It contains none of the chemicals in most pest repellents and insecticides, and quickly gathered a large following when on the market briefly in 2002.

At the Whole Grocer in Portland, “they were standing in line,” White said.

The company then believed Anti- Pesto-O would be exempt from the EPA regulations, but had to pull the product because of state requirements.

Many stores, hoping it would be back, held shelf space for the product for several weeks, but are no longer.

“We get requests every week,” said Mike St. Clair, a former retail marketing executive at Hannaford Brothers, who joined the company recently to serve as vice president for sales and marketing. “We’re anxious to get to market.”

The company has hired a regulatory consultant in Washington, D.C., to make sure the EPA permitting process goes smoothly. That involves product-safety tests on animals, and on people.

The “ultimate irony” in a year of EPA-required safety research, St. Clair said, is that “in the process of testing, the EPA has allowed us to put (Anti Pest-O) on food products that are consumed directly by humans.”

Now the company is just a few weeks from filing. The regulatory process has been “frustrating and aggravating,” taking a lot of time and including expensive tests.

“It is almost financially prohibitive,” White said. St. Clair said there should be new rules for organic products to make it easier to prove they are non-toxic.

Even getting enough supplies is a challenge. The company had to go all the way to India to find an EPA-approved supplier of a major ingredient, neem oil.

In mid-2002, Holy Terra moved to the Center for Environmental Enterprise, a state-funded business incubator on the SMTC campus. CEE provided a lot of help, including access to public agencies and other businesses that could help. They also connected to marketing classes at USM, which did some research for the company.

USM’s patent office helped the company write and file a patent on Anti-Pest-O, which is still pending.

They were hoping to use some of the CEE building’s basement for production, but ran into problems because SMTC didn’t want to give up the space, St. Clair said.

In October 2002, the company met with a group of investors who agreed to kick in $500,000, some of which is keyed to sales figures when Anti-Pest-O goes on the market.

That cash allowed an April move to the Fox Street Business Center in the old Freightliner trucking building in Portland. The company has enough space for production there and can expand if necessary.

Now they are gearing up to produce an infomercial to hit national airwaves early in 2004. The retail market will be first, including major hardware chains as well as natural-product sections of grocery stores.

St. Clair expects Anti-Pest-O to do very well with a wide range of customers. “They’re interested in finding an alternative to toxic chemicals and toxic solutions,” he said.

The company has also met with the state Commissioner of Agriculture and the Cooperative Extension program at UMaine. “Everybody is extremely interested in this,” White said.

Agricultural buyers won’t come on board until after even more studies are completed. USM and UMaine are just beginning work and may not be ready for two years.

Research will determine how it can best be used in what is called “integrated pest management,” using a variety of methods, including crop rotation and beneficial insects, to reduce the number of chemicals applied to crops.

White has plans to expand the product line, including possibly ncorporating Anti-Pest-O into other products.

The company has maintained its sense of practicality, including a not-too-official memorandum. On a white board next to St. Clair’s desk, his 10-year-old daughter has written this simple to-do list: “1. Make AntiPestO, 2. Test AntiPestO. 3. Get AntiPestO aprooved (sic). 4. Sell AntiPestO.”

The potter at Higgins Beach

Published in the Current

Bill Cox has spent a lifetime of summers on Higgins Beach. He says it’s a break from his pottery at home in Pennsylvania, but he still manages to draw inspiration from the Maine coast, and sell a few pieces as well.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the colors of blues and greens in the ocean,” Cox said. He also looks for colors in the local rocks. “Sometimes I’ll photograph things,” and take the pictures back to the studio to work on recreating the colors, he said.

Cox, 75, is a retired research chemist who now pursues his “serious hobby” of the past 20 years with a scientific passion.

“My real interest is in glaze development,” Cox said. “The chemistry of these temperatures is very complicated.”

He keeps a notebook with formulas for glazes and the results of testing different bases and ways to apply glazes.

“You can put the same glaze on two clay bodies and they’ll look very different,” Cox said.

He sometimes mixes the clay himself, but not usually. More often, if he doesn’t use just a standard commercially available clay, he’ll use Maine materials to put what’s called a “slip” on it – a thin clay mixed with other material on top of a generic clay base.

“Sand imparts texture and color,” Cox said.

He always mixes the glazes according to his own recipes. Finely ground glass is the basis for all glazes, as are differing amounts of clay, feldspar and talc. Other substances add color. Amounts of iron vary the depth of brown or yellow, while cobalt imparts a blue color.

Each substance has a different melting temperature, which affects how the glaze appears after it has been fired in a kiln.

Sometimes he has a color target but usually he is playing with a recipe he has used before.

Cox tries to keep only about a dozen mixed glazes at a time, to prevent his
studio from being too cluttered.

“I’m still fascinated with bowl shapes,” Cox said. “It enables me to show the
glaze both inside and outside.”

They also reveal the glazing process. On Cox’s bowls, places where a slightly too-thin glaze has dripped a bit are evident, as are overlapping areas where the items are hand-dipped.

Cox also keeps records of how he coats his pottery with glazes. Dipping a bowl in glaze quickly results in a lighter color than pulling it out slowly.

Even so, there are some appearances he just can’t recreate, despite all of his notes. He chalks those up to variations in materials from his suppliers and moves on. He is a studio potter, not overly concerned about whether a large number of his items match in the ways that commercially made pottery must.

“The glaze development just goes on and on and on,” Cox said.

He makes some pieces for family members and also sells his work at a gallery in Naples. Much of his work is sold right from his studio in Pennsylvania, but he brings some up each year to sell at the Higgins Beach Craft Fair in August. This year the show will be held Aug. 15 and 16 in a community building near the Higgins Beach Inn.

He also has donated work to support fund-raising efforts of the Friends of Scarborough Marsh, Maine Audubon and the Scarborough Historical Society.

His family is long established in Higgins Beach. In addition to family in the area, his father first came there in 1918. “Ironically he stayed in this cottage when he was a bachelor,” Cox said of the cottage where he now spends summers.

He does not accept commissions. “This is what I do. If you like it, that’s fine,” Cox said.

Fine going up for spill

Published in the Current

The state Department of Environmental Protection has rejected a proposed settlement from the insurance company representing the trucking firm responsible for an April 7 jet fuel spill in South Portland and will now assess damages.

“At this point, we wouldn’t be negotiating. We’d hand them the bill,” said John Wathen, regional director for the DEP. The DEP will determine the amount based on what is expected to be a year-long study on the impact the spill had on the surrounding environment.

Both parties had hoped to reach a settlement, but the insurance company made “an insufficient offer,” according to Wathen, who said before negotiations collapsed that he was looking for “something in the six-figure range.”

Sean Dundon, the environmental-impact insurance adjuster representing the trucking company, expected it to be “less than $100,000.”

The DEP already has taken several aerial photos of the damage to the marsh grasses near the site of the incident in which a fuel tanker truck overturned on Broadway, spilling 6,000 gallons of jet fuel into the street and culverts leading to the Fore River.

The accident occurred right in front of the fire and police station.

In the next two weeks, scientists will be collecting samples from the shellfish and sediment in the area and analyzing them to determine how much fuel remains in the environment and what the spill’s lasting effects will be.

“This is a process. There are a lot of things we’re going to do,” Wathen said. “All of the costs will start going on the tab.”

He said the bill, which would include staff time and lab fees as well as compensation for the environmental damage, could be as much as $500,000.

Dundon said his understanding from the DEP was that the April 7 spill was “much smaller” than the Julie N spill in 1996, which released 180,000 gallons of crude oil into Portland Harbor when a tanker hit the Casco Bay Bridge.

The cleanup cost $50 million, and the DEP fine, $1 million, was finally agreed upon in 2000.

The driver of the truck in the April 7 accident, Michael McCarthy, 43, of Berwick, was given a summons for imprudent speed, a charge carrying a $98 fine.

“There is some (lasting) damage,” Wathen said. It is limited to the cove to which the spill was contained and can be seen in growth differences between marsh grasses in the area and uncontaminated places nearby.

“We’re concerned about shellfish in the mud” as well, Wathen said.

He said the study is worthwhile not only for this case, but also because jet fuel spills are relatively rare. Gathering more information about the impact of jet fuel on the environment could help people dealing with future spills, here or elsewhere.

Jet fuel is far more volatile than crude oil, which can stick on wildlife or other surfaces for months. Much of the fuel evaporated during the days after the spill, and about 40 percent of it was collected during the post-accident cleanup.

Walters jailed on sex charges

Published in the Current

George E. Walters, 42, of Coach Lantern Lane, Scarborough, pleaded guilty June 23 to state charges of unlawful sexual contact and Coast Guard charges of receiving and possessing child pornography. He will serve three years in military jails, followed by 12 years of probation in Maine, and will be required to register as a sexually violent predator in the state’s sex offender registry.

In a plea deal, Walters, who is a first class petty officer with 21 years’ service in the Coast Guard, will also be reduced in rank to the lowest enlisted rank. He will be given a bad conduct discharge from the Coast Guard upon completion of his sentence, during which he will not earn any Coast Guard pay or benefits. He will also not be eligible for any Coast Guard retirement benefits.

Walters pleaded guilty June 23 in Cumberland County Superior Court to three state felony charges of unlawful sexual contact, in a plea deal resulting in the dropping of 12 other state charges: three counts of felony unlawful sexual contact, one count of misdemeanor unlawful sexual contact, six counts of misdemeanor assault, one count of misdemeanor sexual misconduct with a child and one count of misdemeanor violation of condition of release.

He was sentenced to five years for each of the three charges to which he pleaded guilty, for a total of 15 years, with all but three years suspended.

Upon his release, Walters must undergo “sexual abuse and sexual offender counseling/treatment,” according to a court order, which also prevents him from being in contact with any females under the age of 18 and prohibits him from owning or using a computer with an Internet connection.

Walters has been classified as a “sexually violent predator” under the state’s sex offender registration law, meaning he will also be required to register with local law enforcement wherever he lives every 90 days for the rest of his life. He received that designation rather than the less-serious “se offender” designation on the registry because of the age of the victims, according to Deputy District Attorney Meg Elam.

He will serve the three years from the state sentence at the same time as the Coast Guard sentence.

“Our objective was for him to serve this sentence in the (Coast Guard) brig rather than in state custody” at state expense, said Elam, who handled the state’s case.

After he finishes his Coast Guard sentence, he will have to come back to Maine to serve out 12 years of probation. If he violates that probation, he could go back to jail for as much as five years per violation, Elam said.

In conversation during a court recess June 23, Walters was heard to ask his wife to look into transferring his Maine probation to New Hampshire after he gets out.

Elam said he could apply for a transfer, but “it’s not automatic.”

“Our objective … was to be watching him” for a long time, Elam said.

Walters, qualified as a cook but working on the maintenance staff at the South Portland Coast Guard station, was charged by the Coast Guard Feb. 19 with possessing and receiving child pornography over the Internet.

The Coast Guard charges stem from a Scarborough police investigation into allegations of unlawful sexual contact with several victims. In court documents filed by Scarborough police Officer Robert Moore supporting those charges, three victims are named, as are three other girls who, the documents say, suffered “some degree of sexual molestation” by Walters.

The victims, all under 18 and most under 14 at the time of the crimes, were all known to Walters, and the unlawful sexual contact occurred in the Walters home while the girls were visiting one of Walters’ sons. Court documents say Walters repeatedly grabbed, touched and rubbed several of the girls on more than one occasion, despite the girls’ screams and cries for Walters to stop.

He was allowed to post $5,000 bail in July 2002, but was arrested in November 2002 and charged with violating his bail conditions by being in the company of a friend’s 10-year-old daughter on three occasions: at Scarborough’s Scary Hayride at Halloween, at a roller-skating party in Portland and a party at the Walters home.

Moore told the Current at that time that the mere presence of the girl in Walters’ company was a violation of the bail conditions.

Moore said he had no evidence that Walters abused the girl, but couldn’t be sure because the girl’s father wouldn’t cooperate.

In the process of investigating those charges, Scarborough police searched Walters’ home and computer and located a number of image files containing child pornography.

In the court-martial, Walters admitted downloading from the Internet or receiving by e-mail more than 50 images of people – mostly girls under the age of 18 – in situations and poses designed to “elicit a sexual response from the viewer.”

His wife Susan was in the courtroom almost the entire time. The two spoke and hugged a couple of times during breaks in the trial, and traded looks and glances throughout the proceedings.

“I’m supporting him 100 percent on all the charges,” Susan Walters told the Current. “I have since day one.”

At the same time, “I was very surprised there were so many” pornographic images. She said she had known he was downloading some images, but did not know how many.

She and her sons moved to be near family in New Hampshire and have been visiting Walters twice a week since November 2002. “They miss their dad,” Susan said of the couple’s sons.

The family has forgiven Walters for his transgressions. “He’s apologized for doing what he did,” Susan said. In fact, Susan said her husband has become a changed man in jail. “He’s more sensitive, he’s more emotional,” she said.

“I admitted I was wrong. That’s the hardest thing for most people,” Walters told the Current before his sentencing.

Walters’ civilian attorney, Peter Rodway, and his military attorney, Navy Lt. Heather Partridge, did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment for this story.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

State wants bigger fine for jet fuel spill

Published in the Current and the American Journal

The state Department of Environmental Protection has rejected a proposed settlement from the insurance company representing the trucking firm responsible for an April 7 jet fuel spill in South Portland and will now assess damages.

“At this point, we wouldn’t be negotiating. We’d hand them the bill,” said John Wathen, regional director for the DEP. The DEP will determine the amount based on what is expected to be a year-long study on the impact the spill had on the surrounding environment.

Both parties had hoped to reach a settlement, but the insurance company made “an insufficient offer,” according to Wathen, who said before negotiations collapsed that he was looking for “something in the six-figure range.”

Sean Dundon, the environmental-impact insurance adjuster representing the trucking company, expected it to be “less than $100,000.”

The DEP already has taken several aerial photos of the damage to the marsh grasses near the site of the incident in which a fuel tanker truck overturned on Broadway, spilling 6,000 gallons of jet fuel into the street and culverts leading to the Fore River. The accident occurred right in front of the fire and police station.

In the next two weeks, scientists will be collecting samples from the shellfish and sediment in the area and analyzing them to determine how much fuel remains in the environment and what the spill’s lasting effects will be.

“This is a process. There are a lot of things we’re going to do,” Wathen said. “All of the costs will start going on the tab.”

He said the bill, which would include staff time and lab fees as well as compensation for the environmental damage, could be as much as $500,000.

Dundon said his understanding from the DEP was that the April 7 spill was “much smaller” than the Julie N spill in 1996, which released 180,000 gallons of crude oil into Portland Harbor when a tanker hit the Casco Bay Bridge. The cleanup cost $50 million, and the DEP fine, $1 million, was finally agreed upon in 2000.

The driver of the truck in the April 7 accident, Michael McCarthy, 43, of Berwick, was given a summons for imprudent speed, a charge carrying a $98 fine.

“There is some (lasting) damage,” Wathen said. It is limited to the cove to which the spill was contained and can be seen in growth differences between marsh grasses in the area and uncontaminated places nearby.

“We’re concerned about shellfish in the mud” as well, Wathen said.

He said the study is worthwhile not only for this case, but also because jet fuel spills are relatively rare. Gathering more information about the impact of jet fuel on the environment could help people dealing with future spills, here or elsewhere.

Jet fuel is far more volatile than crude oil, which can stick on wildlife or other surfaces for months. Much of the fuel evaporated during the days after the spill, and about 40 percent of it was collected during the post-accident cleanup.

S.P. armed robber on the loose

Published in the American Journal

A man who robbed a South Portland video store at gunpoint remained at large as the American Journal went to press Tuesday. Police are seeking a heavy-set 5-foot-5 “Hispanic-looking” male in his late 20s or early 30s with a thin moustache and a thick but intelligible accent.

Just after 9 a.m. Monday, an employee of Blockbuster Video on Waterman Drive, just beside the Casco Bay Bridge, was locking the store’s door to go across the street to a bank when a man approached from behind, according to Detective Eric Jesseman of the South Portland police.

The store wasn’t even open yet, but the man told the employee he had a gun and ordered him back into the store.

Inside, the man displayed a black and white semiautomatic handgun and told the employee to clean out the safe.

The suspect, wearing a baseball cap and hooded sweatshirt to hide from security cameras, ordered the employee to lie on the floor until he left the store, at which point the employee called police. The man was seen running from the store.

Later in the day, a South Portland officer spotted a man who matched the suspect’s description near the intersection of Broadway and Evans Street. That man fled on foot, and officers were unable to catch him, Jesseman said.

Police are hoping someone may have seen the suspect loitering near the store before the crime. “This guy had to be, in my opinion, staking this place out,” Jesseman said.

Homecoming sweet for Gorham woman

Published in the American Journal

Tara Rich is home. Rich, a Gorham resident and staff sergeant in the 265th Combat Communications Squadron of the Maine Air National Guard, arrived at the Portland International Jetport Monday evening after a long trip from Kuwait.

Rich, 28, was greeted by her mother Patricia, her sister Stacey Rich-Abbott, Stacey’s husband Dan Abbott and Stacey and Dan’s daughter Samantha Abbott. Family members and friends of 12 of Rich’s fellow squadron members greeted their loved ones Monday as well, on two flights into Portland.

Thirteen members of the South Portland-based squadron remain in Kuwait but hope to be home soon.

The unit was sent to Kuwait in February for a 90-day tour. When war broke out, the National Guard extended Rich’s active duty, along with everyone else in the squadron, for a year.

The delayed return was slowed further by mechanical problems on the aircraft leaving Kuwait, Rich-Abbott said. The group was originally supposed to be home Friday, then Saturday, then Sunday. The family, in fact, had planned a welcome-home party Sunday, but she wasn’t there. “We’ll just have a heck of a Fourth party,” Rich- Abbott said.

Rich had e-mailed her sister to say that the Air Force plane they were leaving Kuwait on had mechanical problems, so it turned around after takeoff and the group was forced to stay put until commercial flights could be arranged.

And though the delay was annoying, the group ended up in better conditions: The Air Force plane didn’t have any blankets, and people were sleeping on the floor, Rich-Abbott said.

The commercial flights worked out. As word passed through the waiting crowd that the first plane was on the ground, Rich’s niece Samantha said, “That’s not good enough. They have to be on the ground.”

As she came into view in the terminal, the family’s excitement built even higher. They had been in touch with Rich from time to time, through e-mail and an occasional phone call. It actually helped that the squadron was involved in communications, the family said.

And then Rich was through the door, wrapped up first in a hug from her mom, then her sister and then the rest of the family.

Rich-Abbott said it was good that Rich’s dachshund Zoe wasn’t there, because the dog is quite excitable and might not have been easy to handle in the airport waiting area, jammed with excited people.

Rich’s mother had a printout of an e-mail message in her purse listing Rich’s food requests, though she hadn’t made any specific meal requests for her arrival night.

On the list were haddock, chop suey, cabbage and broccoli. “I’m sure she’ll be wanting a big seafood fest,” Rich-Abbott said.

In a quiet moment before heading off to baggage claim, Rich looked a bit overwhelmed by all the attention and the crowd of well-wishers. “It’s really good to be home,” Rich said.

She’ll have about a month off after a debriefing session today. The first order of business? “A shower would be good,” Rich said.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Till death do us part: Even if you're mean and surly

Published in the Portland Phoenix

When partners take that pledge on their wedding day, and even more so when children are born into a mutual pledge of love — or at least tolerance — it is easy not to remark upon the actual commitment such a promise entails. Raynelle (Sheila Shay) has been doing the honoring for " 39 years, 39 long years " when her husband Bud dies in the opening moments of Dearly Departed.

She and Bud had turned from each other’s hearts long ago, with " not so much as a warm handshake in 33 years, " but Raynelle and her family remain determined to do right by their deceased patriarch.

The play peeks briefly at the issues involved in the ending of a lifelong commitment and the requisite self-reflections. But it mainly sticks to stereotypical white-trash shallowness and bellyaching about life’s misfortunes. There is precious little mourning for the man who begat so many unfortunate creatures.

The play is an odd one, founded as it is on stereotypes of Southern life and Southern people. It was written in 1991, the first play for either of the pair of Kentuckians who gave the script life.

In the Waterville Opera House’s studio theater, however, the play struggles to survive. The problem is really the surroundings, which are impoverished compared to the beautiful renovations that have been made to the rest of the landmark building.

The seats are not elevated properly, meaning anybody further back than the third row must strain to catch a glimpse of the action. And the chairs are shoddy, at best — some are blocked off and visibly broken, while at least one actually gave way with a loud CRACK during a recent production, overly strained by the contortions of its occupant to lay eyes on the actors.

Worse still, the acoustics are dismal, requiring a massive tandem effort of projection and enunciation to make any words audible. It is helpful that most of the dialogue is delivered from a standing position, with actors in a back-stoop scene standing and sitting to alternately speak and listen.

The atmosphere was made even worse by the audience, who — perhaps as a result of the advanced age of many of them — took every opportunity to converse with each other. Three notes to those who wish to keep their seats in most theaters around the globe: Scene changes, no matter how long, are not your cue to take a turn at a speaking role. Second, actors in rehearsal may need help beginning a line. After the line is delivered, especially during a show, it is not helpful or polite to repeat it. And third, when something comes to mind that you simply must say, realize that nobody in the room is there to listen to you.

And a note to theater managers and ushers: Movie houses expressly ask their audiences not to talk during the movie, and turn up the sound in case people ignore them. In the absence of amplification, it would seem sensible to make a specific request — either in person before the show, or in the program — to refrain from dialogue during the performance.

There are nice touches in this production, including a clever scene in a car, with three hayseed children painted on a canvas representing the back seat. An overbearingly religious woman (Marguerite, played by Doree Austin) bellows each time she speaks of her Lord and Savior or reads from the Holy Book. An entire character (Delightful, the all-consuming daughter, played by Joel Gagne) is included, whose sole purpose is disgusting comic relief, and whose audition must have consisted of an eating contest at a Shoney’s midnight buffet.

The acting is strong, the comedy is funny, and there is poignancy at all the right moments. In particular, the conflicted bitter belle Suzanne (Marty Kelley) and her failed-entrepreneur husband Junior (Tom Dix) are hilarious. Raynelle and her son Ray-Bud (John Bolduc) are perhaps the most " normal " of the characters, allowing room for everyone to identify with someone in the show. The cast’s theater newcomers and old-timers (if they’ll forgive the expression) work well together and play off each other nicely.

The ending, however, drags on. Closing a comedy is no simple task, and for novice playwrights to have done it perfectly would be a real stunner. It is, however, a surprise that the veteran actors at ACAT didn’t adapt it slightly. All the loose ends are gathered, all the bonds retied, but at what price? A play nearly 15 minutes longer than it needed to be, with at least three consecutive endings all tagged together.

A special note: Two of the cast, Kelly Camp-Force (playing Nadine, a pregnant mom of several, none by the same dad) and Tom Kelleher (playing Royce, a vacant and lazy young man whose career aspirations are to stay on unemployment until he can get married, become a father, and go on welfare) just finished the high school academic year. Their strong performances show their theatrical futures will far outstrip the characters they played, though that’s not really saying much.

Dearly Departed
Written by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones. Directed by Mark Nadeau. With Sheila Shay, John Bolduc, Tom Dix, and Doree Austin. At Aqua City Actors Theater, in Waterville, through June 21. Call (207) 580-6783.


• Best wishes and a speedy recovery to Linda J. Bruce, Waterville Junior High School teacher and drama club leader. Also an actor in productions throughout central Maine, she recently was hospitalized for a sudden, serious condition.

• Summer theater-fruit reminders: The Cast at the St. Lawrence June 19, 21, and 22; Light up the Sky at the Gaslight in Hallowell June 19 through 21 and 26 through 28; Macbeth at Spring Point starting June 25.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Board worried about more cuts in high school plan

Published in the Current

The Cape Elizabeth School Board is worried that town councilors will use a Monday meeting between representatives of the two boards to try and reduce the $7.5 million budget for the high school renovation – scheduled to go to referendum in November.

On Monday, June 23, from 3:30 to 6 p.m., there will be a meeting of three town councilors and three School Board members at Town Hall “to determine the amount of money that goes to referendum for the high school,” according to School Board Chairman Marie Prager, who was renamed head of the board last week.

Prager was speaking at a School Board workshop Tuesday. She said it did not appear that the joint committee would take public comment, though Monday’s meeting would be open to the public.

The committee will make a cost recommendation to the council by July 9, and the council will act to set the amount for the referendum vote during its regular July 14 business meeting.

The nature of the recommendation worried board members. With three members of each board, a disagreement could result in “no real recommendation,” board member Kevin Sweeney said.

“It seems to me to be a charade,” Sweeney said.

Board member George Entwistle agreed. “It seems like it’s an exercise in creating an appearance of some democratic process that doesn’t exist.”

When the Town Council decided in May to have a committee review the costs, councilors expressed concern that construction costs might have changed in the eight-month-old project estimates and wanted to make sure\ the dollar amount was correct before setting the amount to be sent to voters.

The committee will not discuss a proposed $1.5 million expansion to Pond Cove School, which has already been set for a November vote. It will talk about the $7.5 million proposed for the high school project – costs that initially started $2 million higher.

“We’ve already made the cuts” to get to $7.5 million, said Elaine Moloney, School Board finance chairman and a member of the newly formed review committee.

“There really is no real role for (councilors) to cut further,” she said.

She did say that the cost might go up as much as 3 or 4 percent, because of increasing construction costs.

The councilors are particularly interested in plans to expand the cafeteria, add a sprinkler system, make changes to the lower athletics field and locker room renovations.

All of those are detailed in documents drawn up by the School Board and its architect, Cape resident Bob Howe of HKTA architects in Portland.

High school Principal Jeff Shedd has written a letter explaining the need for a cafeteria expansion and the athletic field reconfiguration, Prager told the board.

The sprinklers, estimated to cost $500,000, are not required by the state fire code, but “our fire chief feels that it’s necessary,” Prager said.

The locker room area will be renovated to provide additional storage space and new locker room facilities, but the exact details have not yet been worked out, Prager said.

Superintendent Tom Forcella told the board the committee would only be able to look at the final dollar amount, and not make changes to the renovation plans themselves. If any plans were changed, they would have to be approved by the School Board.

Kid who couldn’t read makes university dean’s list

Published in the Current

Before Arin Bratt came to Scarborough High School, he had been told he would never learn to read and wouldn’t make much of himself. His dyslexia was too severe. Last June, he left Scarborough High School, after his junior year, and now 18, is about to go into his junior year in college and made the dean’s list last semester.

“He always wanted to go to college,” said his mother, Susan Snow. Too shy to be interviewed himself, Bratt allowed his proud mother to speak for him. When he was growing up, his dyslexia meant he couldn’t read.

“We read everything to him,” Snow said. That included books, magazines and even the encyclopedia. Growing up, his peers made fun of him for being “stupid” or “dumb,” because he couldn’t read.

As a middle-schooler in Texas, Bratt was told that he had “plateaued” – that he would never learn to read and wouldn’t get much further in school.

“That’s when he really dug in,” said high school biology teacher, Ellen Ross, who later coached Bratt on the high school Academic Decathlon team. The family’s move from Texas to Scarborough also played a big role.

He was so determined to read, Snow said, that he quit playing soccer, and the family brought in a high school student who spent hours teaching him to read. After months of work, “he painstakingly got through about two sentences,” Snow said.

“He compensated by memorizing” everything that was said in his classes. He couldn’t really take notes, and it was pointless for someone else to take notes for him, because he couldn’t read them.

He could do math, but it was hard for him to show his work. Near the end of his freshman year, the family called a school conference to discuss whether Bratt would be allowed to take physics the following year with the seniors, instead of biology with the sophomores.

The high school physics class requires calculus, but Bratt had only taken geometry. Everyone agreed anyway, as long as Bratt took calculus at the same time.

“Any one of them could have said no,” Snow said.

“He was bright and quite motivated,” said physics teacher Dave O’Connor. “He was able to formulate a picture of an abstract thought quite easily.”

He did very well in class. “His analytical ability was phenomenal,” O’Connor said. “He wanted to understand things at a fundamental level.”

Bratt also knew that he needed foreign-language experience to get into college. Because of his difficulties learning from books, he planned to study in Costa Rica for a summer, to immerse himself in the language. When 9/11 happened, the trip was cancelled, forcing Bratt to take classes at USM instead.

He took other university classes, as well, particularly in math and science, earning college credit that would later help him skip an entire year of college.

He also dived into the Academic Decathlon team with a passion. “He was very focused,” said Ross, the team’s coach.

He learned so much that not only did he rank third individually in the nation for schools the size of Scarborough’s at the Academic Decathlon, but he also took advanced placement tests in five subjects, doing well enough to earn college credit for them as well.

“I think sometimes he amazed himself,” Ross said.

He was given extra time on the tests because of his reading difficulties, but he had to know all of the material involved, and communicate it clearly.

As his junior year progressed, he became interested in nanotechnology, the science of very tiny machines that involve all the sciences –biology, chemistry and physics.

The University of Texas at Dallas, which Snow calls “a think tank for nanotechnology,” offered Bratt early admission and a scholarship for him to study there. His college dream was real.

Technically speaking, he couldn’t graduate from high school until he finished his senior year. So he dropped out of school and got a GED instead, which required the consent of the superintendent because of his young age.

He started classes at UT-Dallas in the fall of 2002 and had enough college credit in advance to skip his sophomore year and start his junior year in the fall. He is double-majoring in physics and economics.

He still has accommodations for his spelling problems, but continues to make progress in that area. “As he reads more, he learns how to spell in context,” Snow said.

His reading continues to hover between the second- and fifth-grade reading levels. “I don’t think he’s ever gotten above fifth-grade reading level, but he compensates,” Snow said.

And despite his trouble reading and writing, Bratt is working on a book based on his original historical research on the Tripolitan war, a conflict in the early 1800s between the fledgling United States and the Barbary States, home to many pirates.

One of the players in the war was Portland-born Edward Preble, a naval commander.

And while his own hard work may be the source of his success, Snow said Bratt is deeply grateful to the staff of the Scarborough schools. “He feels as though they deserve all the credit,” Snow said.

“The school worked with him on his strengths,” she said. “Anyplace else wouldn’t have been open to that.”

Historic Cape house now part of bank suit

Published in the Current

A historic Shore Road house that has been under construction for some time is now at the center of a dispute between its owner, Darrell Mayeux, and Fleet Bank, which is requesting a judge put an additional lien on the property to cover money Fleet says Mayeux owes the bank.

The house, at 878 Shore Road, is mortgaged for $1.7 million to Fleet, but the mortgage itself is not part of the dispute.

Instead, Fleet and Mayeux are arguing over the terms of a $4 million loan Mayeux took out in August 2000 at the recommendation of a Fleet personal financial advisor.

At the time, Mayeux had a Fleet-handled investment portfolio worth more than $20 million, according to documents filed in Cumberland County Superior Court June 13. The loan was offered as a way for Mayeux to diversify his holdings, which were mostly stock in Fairchild Semiconductor, where Mayeux was a senior executive. He retired in August 2001.

According to court documents, Mayeux borrowed the money in August 2000, using his existing stock as collateral, but ran into trouble as the stock market tumbled, dramatically reducing the stock’s value.

To help cover the loan, Fleet sold – with Mayeux’s permission – 200,000 of Mayeux’s shares of Fairchild stock in late 2002.

Mayeux filed suit to stop a second sale, of 200,000 shares, in April 2003, but was unsuccessful, the documents state. The bank sold the shares, raising $2.2 million.

Now the bank is claiming that the sale of those 400,000 shares did not raise enough to pay off the loan, and wants liens placed on the Shore Road house, as well as Mayeux’s primary residence on Highland Road in South Portland, to cover the remaining $240,000 outstanding balance, plus $30,000 in attorneys’ fees and collection costs.

The bank is doing so for fear Mayeux will sell the two properties, and possibly other homes he owns in Falmouth and California, leaving Fleet with no way to recover its money.

Mayeux, for his part, filed a counter-suit claiming the bank mishandled his finances and botched its attempt to cover its losses. The counter-suit alleges Fleet failed to tell Mayeux when the value of his investment portfolio was dropping precipitously, sold shares it was not authorized to sell and incurred both unnecessary bank charges and capital gains tax on Mayeux’s behalf.

Mayeux’s filing also requests that a lien only be placed on the Shore Road house, because Fleet’s own assessment is that the property is worth as much as $3.5 million. The suit says the house is on the market for $3.8 million and is expected to sell for $3.6 million.

It also says “an informal offer of $3 million has been made” by an unnamed potential buyer.

The house, thought by many to be a John Calvin Stevens design, was originally designed by prominent local architect Austin W. Pease and built sometime before 1910, according to Earle G. Shettleworth Jr., director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, who spoke to the Current in October. It was almost original as recently as 1998, but recent renovations have dramatically altered the historic character of the house, Shettleworth said.

The counter-suit also claims Mayeux does not have enough cash to pay as much as $1 million in capital gains tax owed as a result of Fleet’s sales of the Fairchild shares, and may have to “restructure” his finances.

Friday, June 13, 2003

Wonder and light: Fairy tales about fairy tales take flight at MSMT

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Since the 1952 hit movie Hans Christian Andersen, starring Danny Kaye, there have been several failed attempts to put the musical live on stage. Twice in the 1970s, the London Palladium theater produced adaptations of the movie, based on famed composer/lyricist Frank Loesser’s original music. And in 2000, the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco put on a rewritten version that failed to do justice either to the familiar tales or to the musical genius of a man who wrote for Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Broadway.

Critics loved the music in each version, but were nonplussed by the storytelling — not Andersen’s fairy tales, of course, but by writers’ explorations of the meaning and inspiration for his work.

Now in its third incarnation, Hans Christian Andersen is on the boards at Bowdoin College’s Pickard Theater, home to the Maine State Music Theatre, and is finally just right, if the opinion of Loesser’s widow means anything.

" I think that he would be very pleased, " said Jo Sullivan Loesser, only three hours before opening night last week. " I happen to think it’s some of his best work. "

And given previous criticism, it’s a positive sign that, as Jo said, " the only thing that’s the same is the music. " The rest has been totally rewritten by Tony Award–winning Maury Yeston, whose Broadway show Nine was up for eight Tonys last weekend, including best revival of a musical, which it won.

" I have been thinking about this for 15 years, " Yeston said. He wrote a version of it then, and revised it three years ago. Now, after further work, it’s set and going.

Kaye’s Andersen was a cobbler who told stories to amuse children but yearned to become a " serious " writer. Now we know better — that Hans (played here by Ken Barnett) was an aspiring writer facing tough competition in the age of Honoré de Balzac and Victor Hugo. Yeston’s script nods to the original: Now, the cobbler is Andersen’s father.

" I love the stories of Hans Christian Andersen. No one has done what this man did, " said Loesser. And no one has done what Frank did, either: " I think he captured his writing completely. " In the famous song " I’m Hans Christian Andersen, " Loesser’s lyrics bring out the wonder of inanimate objects, the sense of desire and humor in an interaction between a table and a chair, who come alive in music as surely as trees and rocks and earth do in Andersen’s tales.

The story for this production is about the coming of age of the man whose stories we grew up with. And rather than just sticking to the truth, it takes on its own life as a fairy tale about the king of the genre. And just as Loesser broke new ground in musical storytelling, so here does the character of Andersen open new doors in balletic narrative.

Yeston’s research revealed that Andersen printed his first story in 1835, the same year the Royal Danish Ballet was founded, and, shortly afterward, ballerinas started dancing en pointe. " Suddenly he found his voice, and suddenly romantic ballet was created, " Yeston said.

Andersen loved from afar Jenny Lind, a Swedish soprano born in 1820 who became famous in the 1840s. To simplify the plot and to further explore the parallels of Andersen’s life and the Royal Ballet, Yeston changed Lind to the fictional ballerina Jenny Starhaven (Amy Bodnar), the belle of the ballet ball.

A chance ticket to a Starhaven show changes Hans’s world, drawing him into working backstage at the ballet and later to writing a libretto, to impress Jenny and win her heart. The reality of the writing life serves as a backdrop, with a group boarding house offering a strong contrast to the privileged life of a ballerina.

From the beginning of the show, Andersen’s tales and Loesser’s songs about them are given new layers, new meanings that unfold like flowers meeting the dawn of a new day.

A late-night vision of Jenny gives Hans new energy and inspiration, as well as an idea. While Andersen might have claimed he saw a group of young ducks and developed " The Ugly Duckling, " here Hans seizes onto Jenny’s confession that she has not always known she is beautiful for the kernel of the story he writes about his love.

Yeston’s genius is to have this insight and to pair Loesser’s song of the story with a silly, fun dance (choreographed by Ginger Thatcher) including both ballet and tap style performances by duck-dancers complete with scuba-divers’ fins on their feet.

And though Yeston and Loesser never met, they work together as if old friends, bringing music, story, and character into a rich concert of life. The most successful song in the 1952 version was " Thumbelina, " which Kaye’s character invented to make a group of children smile. Here, a desperate Hans devises the tale to avoid eviction from his lodgings. Other songs serve to move the plot along as well: " Inchworm " scolds a bean-counting businessman, while " The Princess and the Pea " is an on-the-spot answer to a friend’s query about what Hans has been up to all day.

It is a magical experience for an audience, held voluntarily and pleasantly captive in the (blessedly) air-conditioned theater. The old familiar tunes take flight on the wings of Yeston’s plot, and with the top-notch performers at MSMT the songs reach deep from the souls of the on-stage characters to the cores of the people watching, bringing both laughter and stunned silence out of nowhere, as if the audience members themselves are in the cast.

The modern world has its own part in the show: Two characters (played by Lori Johnson and Seth Belliston) wear rollerblades every time they appear on stage, artfully gliding among the other cast members and embodying the flow of mind and heart through this tale. And without giving too much away, ultraviolet light is used to magical effect.

Which moves directly into costuming: Most designers are hard-pressed to work in regular light. Jimm Halliday handled the normal stuff with great skill, even conning a young boy into tails and culottes, where he seemed happy enough. And then Halliday explored other spectrums of light, other definitions of darkness.

The set, too, defied convention. Literally a frame of stories surrounding and supporting the play, the bookends fold back and reveal the life bustling beneath the pages. Intricate details were not ignored, and costumes, set and choreography married each other in polygamist festivals of color and movement, especially in the underwater scenes.

" We wanted to go somewhere that would give us a good production, " Jo said. Yeston agreed that they had found it: MSMT’s crew " can accomplish in three weeks what takes most people three months. " Yeston also raved about MSMT’s newly purchased rehearsal space, calling it " better than anything you can get in New York. "

Producers from all over the US and Europe have been badgering Jo and Yeston for months. " We’ve had to sort of fight them off " and make them wait until the show was ready, Jo said. She is finally allowing two English producers to see it, but not on opening night.

They have also had inquiries from Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden. Jo is considering a run in Denmark, too, Andersen’s home country. A theater just outside Copenhagen, in Malmo, might be just the place to catch this show again soon. When the Loessers went to Denmark in the 1960s, Frank was given a hero’s welcome, with " Wonderful Copenhagen " — the opening number in this performance — played everywhere they went, like " Hail to the Chief " for the US president.

But this script, this score, these roles will also see humbler stages. Jo envisions high school performances nationwide, and though she immediately gets her back up when people ask for the rights to Loesser’s work, she welcomes schools with open arms.

There will not be a Broadway production, however. " We don’t need to, " Jo says candidly. " We would rather play the country. " Just as Andersen’s stories continue to do.

Hans Christian Andersen
Written by Maury Yeston. Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser. Directed by Charles Abbott. Musical direction by Edward Reichert. With Ken Barnett and Amy Bodnar. Maine State Music Theatre through June 21. Call 207-725-8769.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

State healthcare plan moves forward

Published in the Current and the American Journal

The governor’s healthcare plan is now out of committee and looks likely to pass the full Legislature later this week.

It is a plan the head of Maine Medical Center says is worth a shot, while the head of the Greater Portland Chambers of Commerce says the insurance piece of it is unworkable.

“I believe that the governor’s initiative is admirable, bold, courageous, necessary,” said Vincent Conti, president and CEO of Maine Medical Center, the state’s largest hospital.

The governor’s overall plan, called “Dirigo Health,” is in two parts: controlling health care costs through regulation and an insurance plan, confusingly called “Dirigo Health Insurance,” which would create a subsidized pool to being insuring some of the 180,000 Mainers who now do not have health insurance.

Following intensive work and deal-making between lawmakers, healthcare providers, insurance companies and businesses, a deal worked out Monday night tweaks the insurance portion of the plan to save what some believe may be the more important part: healthcare cost containment.

In particular, the deal includes a safety net in case the insurance plan doesn’t work: After three years, the state will have to report on whether numbers of uninsured people are dropping and whether insurance premiums are going down because people are using their insurance to go to the doctor before they get critically ill. If the plan isn’t working, the state will have to propose major revisions that will work.

Conti of Maine Medical Center has his doubts about the insurance piece of the plan, but is supporting the governor’s package because of its broader reform goals. He said the health care system in Maine, “if not in crisis now, is pretty much heading toward a train wreck.”

With an aging population in Maine needing more healthcare, demand is growing, at the same time advances in medical technology are making health care more expensive, Conti said.

The governor’s plan would ask hospitals to hold down their per-patient costs and would improve the existing healthcare planning system in the state, removing political pressures from decisions on where new facilities will be built. Decisions would be based on which facilities could offer the best clinical outcomes because of proven expertise.

The state would augment an existing database now run by the Maine Health Management Coalition, compiling statistics on healthcare costs and treatment
outcomes, to give the public more information about how much modern medicine costs.

The second part, the health insurance plan, is intended to fix the healthcare payment system, in which 180,000 Mainers do not have health insurance. Because they lack coverage, they tend to wait until they are very ill and then go to what Conti calls “the single most expensive place in the universe” to get healthcare: the emergency room.

They can’t pay their bills, and the money must come from somewhere else. This cost-shifting is made worse because Medicaid and Medicare payments pay just 80 percent of the actual cost of care provided to their patients.

All of the unpaid money must be made up from the only remaining source: privately insured people and their insurance companies.

That drives up the cost of healthcare bills to private insurers, which in turn ups premiums for insurance coverage. Fewer people can afford insurance, and so more become uninsured, raising the specter of a vicious spiral in which, eventually, nobody will be able to afford health insurance.

Dirigo Health Insurance would be a state-assembled pool of uninsured people who would have access to – and some state funding to pay for – a state-designed health insurance plan provided by the private insurance company that bids the lowest in a state-run auction.

The plan has come under criticism because it would require employers and employees to purchase health insurance at or close to market rates, which are too high for many to bear.

Godfrey Wood, president and CEO of the Greater Portland Chambers of Commerce, has proposed moving forward with the healthcare system reform piece of the plan right away, and working through the summer to fine-tune the insurance segment.

Wood said more than half of the funding for the governor’s plan would come from individuals and employers, who are not now paying anything toward health insurance premiums, leaving workers and families uninsured.

He said “very few” businesses would sign onto the Dirigo Health Insurance plan because it wouldn’t be much cheaper than existing health insurance.

“It’s a very rich plan at a very inexpensive price,” projections he does not think are realistic. “Individuals can’t afford it now. Businesses can’t afford it,” Wood said.

Friday, June 6, 2003

A healthy summer diet: Including luscious theatrical fruit

Published in the Portland Phoenix

It’s summer in Maine, and there’s so much to do. Make sure one of those things on the to-do list is to not just eat but sit back and enjoy a good, fresh piece of locally grown theater fruit.

Here, hand-picked for you, are this summer’s ripest and freshest, juicy with passion and alive with color and light, direct from my to-do calendar to yours, starting right away, and moving through the season between the muds, with a different taste each time:

First, the starfruit — the top items of each month. If you can only manage a few theatrical antioxidants in your diet, don’t miss these.

• June is already here. If you only can make room for one production, get going early and whet your appetite — maybe you’ll crave more. The all-out gem of the summer, not to be missed, is " Hey, We’re Acting Over Here, " a festival of short plays hosted by the Cast, made up of Craig Bowden, J.P. Guimont, and David A. Currier. These three are theater geniuses we’ll hope to keep around Maine for a long, long time. They’ll be on stage performing David Mamet, David Ives, and Christopher Durang, alongside some of their most talented friends and colleagues, including Joshua Stamell. It’s at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, in Portland; curtain is at 8 p.m. June 19, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. June 21, and at 3 p.m. June 22. Tickets $10, available at the door.

• In late June and early July, Maine’s newest theater company, the Stage, will put on its first performance in a historic outdoor venue at Fort Preble. Macbeth will star the Stage’s founders, Seth Rigoletti and Miranda Hope, who view the play’s theme of violence begetting violence as cathartic and enlightening in these troubled times. Find them at Spring Point, in South Portland, June 25 to July 12 (except July 4). Curtain is at 8 p.m. on Wed. through Sat. Tickets are free, but call (207) 828-0128 for reservations and updates in case of bad weather.

• A late July highlight will be Winter Harbor Theatre speaking out again, with a reprise of their stunning production of Tony Kushner’s antiwar play Only We Who Guard The Mystery Shall Be Unhappy. If you missed this brilliantly written and powerfully performed show in April, now you get a second chance. Again the audience and actors will be under the gaze of Robert Shetterly’s portraits of Americans Who Tell The Truth. It’s at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, in Portland. Gallery opens at 7 p.m., curtain is at p.m., July 30 and 31. Tickets free, available at the door.

• August will see the fourth annual Deertrees Theatre Festival, a collaboration with New York City’s Greenlight Theatreworks to bring to Maine four plays from New York. This year we’ll get Ira Levin’s Dr. Cook’s Garden, a thriller about the happiest and healthiest small town in Vermont; Vanities, Jack Heifner’s 1960s and ’70s coming-of-age story; the Tony-winning Art, by Yazmina Reza, about male friendship, intellectual honesty, and what defines art; and Driving Miss Daisy, by Alford Uhry, the Pulitzer- and Oscar-winning drama set in the antebellum South. All shows are at Deertrees Theatre, in Harrison, start at 8 p.m. and cost $16. Call (207) 583-6747. Dr. Cook’s Garden shows Aug. 7 and 8; Vanities shows Aug. 14 and 15; Art shows Aug. 21 and 22; Driving Miss Daisy shows Aug. 28, 29, and 30.

And now for the rest of this summer’s luscious fruit salad, in chronological order by starting date:

• A sure-to-succeed play about a failing show is Light Up The Sky by Moss Hart at the Gaslight Theater. Theater insiders fear their show will flop and begin to self-destruct. Then they realize the play is a dark-horse success. Where is the line between commercialism and art? It’s at the Gaslight Theater, in Hallowell, June 19 to 21 and June 26 to 28. Call (207) 626-3698 for times and ticket prices.

• The Theater at Monmouth’s summer season will be alive with Shakespeare, comedy, and classics. Shakespeare lovers will adore Two Gentlemen of Verona, Julius Caesar, and The Compleat Wrks of Willm Shkspr, abridged by Singer, Long, and Borgeson. Also, TAM favorite Janis Stevens will have a one-night performance of the one-woman show written for her, Vivien, about actress Vivien Leigh. All shows are at The Theater at Monmouth, in Monmouth. Call (207) 933-9999 for show times. Tickets are $18 to $26. Two Gents shows July 5 through Aug. 23; Caesar shows July 25 through Aug. 22; Compleat Wrks shows Aug. 12 and 19; Vivien shows Aug. 5.

Deertrees Theatre has several other productions, besides the festival listed above. They include Susan Poulin’s show Franco Fry or Pardon My French, a thoughtful exploration of her Franco-American heritage; and Exceptions to Gravity, by Avner Eisenberg, who, it is said, was once arrested in France for " buffoonery in public. " Both shows are at Deertrees Theater, in Harrison. Call (207) 583-6747. Franco Fry shows July 18. Tickets $14. Exceptions to Gravity shows Aug. 9. Tickets $16.

• The Maine Shakespeare Festival will move this year from the riverfront to the Bangor Opera House, but budget troubles have forced the cancellation of the two scheduled Shakespeare performances as well as one musical. Now, they will perform only The Fantasticks, and will offer matinees for the first time, as well as indoor plumbing. At the Bangor Opera House, in Bangor, July 24 through Aug. 9, on Thursday through Saturday. Tickets range from $17 to $25 (donate an extra buck to help keep them alive). Call (207) 942-3333 for prices and times.

• If it rains during the first two weeks of August, you can find an indoor seat at a play about that very predicament. Acadia Repertory Theater will put on Relatively Speaking: A Summer Comedy, by Alan Ayckbourn, a top English comic playwright. The play is described as what people do " when their seaside summer holidays were spoiled by the rain and they came to the theater before trudging back to their landladies. " It’s at Acadia Repertory Theater, on Mt. Desert Island. Curtain is at 8:15 p.m., Tues. through Sun., from July 29 through Aug. 10. Tickets $20. Call (207) 244-7260.

Frank Wicks of the Theater Project will see another in a string of intermittent performances of his play Soldier, Come Home, a readers’ theater piece based on the letters to and from his great-grandparents, written between 1859 and 1865, as his great-grandfather served in the Union Army. At First Parish Church, in Brunswick. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m., Aug. 8. Tickets $10. Call (207) 729-6606.

• Two bickering sisters wait through the summer for the whales to migrate as they have for years in The Whales of August, at the Lakewood Theater. David Berry’s play takes a poignant look at family, dependency, and aging in the soft light of summer. At Lakewood Theater, in Skowhegan. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Aug. 14 and 21, at 8:15 p.m. Aug. 15 and 16, at 6:45 p.m. Aug. 17 and 19, and at 2 p.m. Aug. 20. Tickets $17 to $22. Call (207) 474-7176.

• And, all summer long, the Players’ Ring, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, will keep things alive with their usual edgy, rough, bright, and unheralded style. Every weekend, July 4 through August 23, will see a new performance by a variety of local actors. Locally written one-acts are represented, as are well known plays and playwrights. Visit for more details on the shows, and call (603) 436-8123 for times and ticket prices.