Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Donations sought for beach wheelchair

Published in the Current and the American Journal

The story of a dutiful son whose car got stuck in the sand on Willard Beach while he was trying to help his mother get into the water has spurred city councilors to ask for donations to help the city buy a beach wheelchair.

William Scully of Beatrice, Neb., whose mother lives in the area, wrote to Dana Anderson, director of parks and recreation, on June 25, to tell his unusual tale and propose a solution to the problem. On a Sunday morning in early June, Scully wrote, he took his mother to Willard Beach to go swimming.

His mother, 85, has arthritis that makes it hard to walk. “It takes her a long time to get to the water’s edge,” Scully wrote. “So in a moment of lunacy I decided to drive the old Volvo onto the beach close to the water.”

His mother safely out and swimming happily, Scully found the car was stuck up to its axles. A tow truck he called also got stuck, and a second tow truck arrived to help.

“With the help of about 20 people digging and a wide-tire F 150 Ford pickup” the car was freed, but Scully doesn’t want to have to do that again.

In the intervening weeks, he has tried to think of a solution, and rather than build an expensive boardwalk for regular wheelchair access, he found a web site,, selling a balloon-tire wheelchair made especially for beach use, able to stand up to salt water and sand.

They weigh about 40 pounds and will be used to get disabled people to and from the beach, rather than having one person use it all day, said Tim Gato, aquatics coordinator for the city.

Gato is looking at two models, which will cost between $2,000 and $2,500 delivered. Scully has donated $1,000. He hopes a chair can get here before summer’s end, but if not expects it will be here in plenty of time for next summer.

Councilor Linda Boudreau read Scully’s letter aloud at last week’s council meeting and asked the public for help raising the remainder of the money needed.

“We will essentially be providing handicap access to Willard Beach,” said City Manager Jeff Jordan.

Friday, July 25, 2003

To tell the truth: Opening eyes and hearts

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Tessy Seward and Caitlin Shetterly don’t want to entertain people with the theatrical performances they produce. Instead, they are returning art to its roots, of disturbing, informing, and creating social change.

"We want people to see things that will move them in a fundamental way," says Seward. Their new venture, Winter Harbor Theater Company, has put on two brief runs of the first act of Tony Kushner’s still-unfinished play, Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy. Their last showing of this work will be at the St. Lawrence July 30 and 31. It is a powerful show, brilliantly performed.

But it is not Little Me, or Hedwig, or any of the other shows recently found at the St. Lawrence. Only We has a harsher worldview than even the Cast’s festival, delivering a political and humanitarian message while still exploring the inner workings of the human mind.

In it, an angel (Stephen McLaughlin) welcomes first lady Laura Bush (Tavia Lin Gilbert) to one of Mrs. Bush’s most common photo-ops, a reading to a group of schoolchildren.

But these kids are Iraqi children killed by American bombs in the 12 years since the end of Gulf War I. The angel gently flays Laura’s confidence in her husband’s rhetoric, revealing a human heart beneath her loyal chest.

It is powerfully eloquent, and even "changed" Seward’s dad, a marine-hardware store owner in Hancock County and Vietnam veteran nervous about the political bent of his daughter’s new venture.

Shetterly and Seward, neither yet 30, speak with a youthful idealism, tempered by practicality and pain: Winter Harbor was formed in the cab of a U-Haul truck heading from Maine to New York, to retrieve Shetterly’s worldly belongings at the end of a broken relationship in a broken, post-9/11 New York.

The two, best friends in nursery school who hadn’t seen each other in 21 years, quickly forged a commitment to speaking out. Shetterly, daughter of painter Robert, wanted to respond to the constant US bombing of Iraq, even before war broke out. Only We fit the bill.

Seward wants to be "a force for creating some positive change." She wants audiences to leave the theater and "see the world with new eyes," hoping they undergo "an emotional transformation" and become more compassionate.

There is also a hard line: "A time like this calls for drastic measures. It calls for courage and truth-telling," Shetterly says. Their productions will "get people to that vulnerable place where you’re so alive and open emotionally," that life literally flows through your veins, and perhaps your tear ducts.

Seward admits people may turn away before they even get in the door: "It’s the risk of absolutely transforming their life that’s terrifying." She believes something about theater, about being together in a space both public and private, "makes it okay to feel more than you might feel if you were alone."

There are economic challenges involved in this work, but Shetterly points to the success of controversial playwright Langford Wilson. Grants are in the works and a board is forming.

Tough pieces addressing sensitive issues may turn off donors, but they say they won’t sell out. "We’re going to do something that challenges people," Shetterly says. "We refuse to have anybody tell us how to do our thing."

They are starting slowly but steadily, planning a short run of one show in October, and a full run of another next spring. August 7, will see Cosy Sheridan’s one-woman show The Pomegranate Seed at the St. Lawrence for one night only. Addressing appetite, body image, and myth in modern culture, Sheridan tells her own story of learning compassion.

Seward and Shetterly saw it not long ago, and were both in tears for much of the performance, opening themselves the way they want others to open during their productions. Any trepidation the pair have is masked by an iron determination. Echoing her painter father’s message, Shetterly is adamant about one thing in particular: "I will tell the truth."

Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy
By Tony Kushner, with Tavia Lin Gilbert and Stephen McLaughlin. Shows at 8 p.m., July 30 and 31, at the St. Lawrence Arts Center. Free. Arrive early and see painter Robert Shetterly’s Portraits of Americans Who Tell The Truth. Call (207) 775-3174.
The Pomegranate Seed
Written and performed by Cosy Sheridan, at 7:30 p.m., Aug. 7, at the St. Lawrence Arts Center. $10. Call (207) 775-3174.


Michael J. Tobin has done it again. In a move he says has " guaranteed a secure future " for the five-month-old Cocheco Stage Company, he has closed its Dover, NH, home and will perform on various local stages, though with what is unclear. (Deathtrap had two last-minute cast changes, and was canceled in the middle of tech week. A reprise of Players Ring hit Gender Bender, slated to open July 25, won’t be happening either.) He initially blamed the closing on the landlord, but now says he’s choosing to avoid the responsibility of a permanent lease. It’s happened before: In the mid-1990s, Tobin opened and quickly closed the Portsmouth Playhouse, leaving bills unpaid. (He chalks it up to being " young and business-stupid. " ) A second try was the late-1990s MainePlay Productions in Portland. After moving locations because he wouldn’t up ticket prices to cover a rent increase, Tobin eventually left, claiming there was no arts support in Portland.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Fuel trucks kept out of Red Bank

Published in the Current and the American Journal

The South Portland City Council ruled Monday that the Portland International Jetport may expand, but may not truck fuel through the Red Bank neighborhood to get to a planned storage site.

The jetport’s proposal is to relocate private planes based at the jetport from one side of the main runway to the other, offering them space for hangar storage and opening more room for storage of planes only visiting the jetport for short periods.

Presently the roughly 60 private aircraft based at the jetport are parked on a paved area on the north side of the main airport buildings, according to Jeff Monroe, transportation director for the city of Portland. That location is also where visiting planes park, and it’s running out of room.

“We get a lot of people flying in over the summer,” Monroe said. As many as 30 to 40 planes a week are brought in by people who either own or rent vacation homes in Maine, he said.

The jetport wants to use a portion of a 70-acre parcel between the Red Bank neighborhood and the Fore River to allow plane owners to build hangars for indoor aircraft storage. As part of that complex, there would be at least three above-ground fuel tanks holding a total of 60,000 gallons of aviation gas and jet fuel.

To supply the tanks, the jetport had asked for permission to drive small fuel trucks along Western Avenue and Westbrook Street to get to the new area, at least until the planned Jetport Plaza Road is complete.

If that road is not complete by the time the complex is in use, the jetport argued, the only alternative would be to truck fuel across the airport’s main runway.

District Five Councilor Jim Hughes, who represents the area including the jetport and the Red Bank neighborhood, was worried about putting fuel trucks through a densely populated area and successfully lobbied his fellow councilors to limit fuel trucks to the Jetport Plaza Road.

While a timetable for the road’s completion is unclear – it is now just a short spur leading to the parking lot near the Staples store – councilors were confident that the road would be complete before the jetport space was ready. Hughes said the restriction would virtually ensure the road was built in time.

Mayor and District Three Councilor Ralph Baxter said his “worst-case scenario” was trucking fuel across the main runway.

Councilor-at-large Linda Boudreau was also worried about the dangers that could pose, mixing fast-moving aircraft with fuel trucks.

Hughes argued that limiting fuel trucks puts pressure on Portland, which must grant an easement for Jetport Plaza Road before it can be built. He said the restriction would not only improve safety but would bring the political interests of the two cities into alignment to get the road built.

District Two Councilor Thomas Maietta suggested that if the road was not complete, the private planes could taxi from the new space back to the present fueling point, keeping fuel out of the neighborhood and preserving airport safety.

In other airport business, Boudreau also noted that the next meeting of the jetport noise advisory group will be held Sept. 24. A report will be issued before that, and the meeting will discuss the report, she said.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Looking for the whole: Or was it the hole?

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Two souls, split by the gods centuries ago, must find each other to again become one. In Hedwig and the Angry Inch, one of those souls must search through himself, then herself, and ultimately in both to find peace.

Braden Chapman (producer, director, and actor playing Hedwig) and the cast and crew have transformed the ex-parish hall theater of the St. Lawrence into a rock-concert stadium, complete with video projection, two televisions, strobe lights, and a proscenium stage allowing direct contact with the audience. Two members of the crew sit in the front row, cheering and screaming to make the concert illusion more real.

The story is hilariously poignant, about a German boy, Hansel, whose mother flees to East Berlin as the wall goes up, raising him to believe that being powerless is better than being corrupted by power. Hansel seeks his soulmate and finds an American soldier who makes Hansel get a sex change before marriage, Oedipally taking his mother’s name and becoming Hedwig. After moving to America and divorcing, Hedwig becomes a rock star, and takes under her wing a spoiled, super-religious boy who rises to surpass Hedwig in stardom.

This show, a hit musical and movie worldwide, was adapted for Portland audiences, including a dig at Phoenix editor Sam Pfeifle’s music taste and a nod to the constant presence of Bobby Lipps, the St. Lawrence’s "best friend."

A reference to Hedwig’s attorney brings up — you guessed it — Joe Bornstein, including the jarring chord that always follows that name in the TV ads. Portland police chief Mike Chitwood also takes a hit, as Hedwig asks, "Are there no fascists in the audience?" Finding no audience support, she says, "I am sure I saw your police chief out there somewhere."

Chapman carries the show and even added a number of in-character ad-lib sections on opening night. When he slammed a door so hard the exit sign above it fell down, he immediately seized the opportunity to pitch the St. Lawrence’s fund-raising campaign: "They need your money, folks! It’s falling apart!" A German transsexual rocker with that kind of presence-of-mind would be invaluable on the St. Lawrence capital campaign.

And then, realizing that a missing exit sign violated the fire code, Chapman gave a brief safety lecture: "Two lights means ‘exit.’ "

Sadly, and perhaps as a result of on-stage audio monitor problems (the subject of yet another ad-lib) Chapman’s singing is almost completely drowned out by the musicians — particularly drummer Ryan Gill — who pound out their songs like any self-respecting punk band should. After a check of the lyrics online, it is clear my sneaking suspicion was true: Major plot events and character development occur in the songs.

This means the audience must wait through the music, knowing something is missing, and try to catch up when Hedwig speaks again. Perhaps this adaptation, which Chapman has so clearly immersed himself in and made his own, would have been even better if it was "unplugged" in the MTV style.

It is an unapologetic production from its opening words: "Ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not — Hedwig!" And as such, it does well, with hilarious costumes (recreated by the costume designer for the show’s 1998 New York debut), outrageous dancing, and thought-provoking questions like "Can two people actually become one, and if it happens on the Autobahn, can we still use the diamond lane?"

The audience is truly a part of this show, as at any rock concert. Chapman startles several people with brief, seated "cameos." He is outrageous and dynamic, making even the act of putting a microphone back on its stand sexual. And he carries off a key moment powerfully, when Hedwig smashes herself with tomatoes (under her shirt as fake breasts), marking herself with a scarlet symbol of betrayal.

As much as Chapman dominates, there is a character who acts as the foil for all of Hedwig’s plans. The barely recognizable Lynne McGhee (in long black wig, with a goatee), plays the Serbian Jew transvestite Yitzak, Hedwig’s second husband, who sings a bitter song of betrayal with sarcasm and power, and generally adds to the amusing mayhem on stage.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Written by John Cameron Mitchell. Music and lyrics by Stephen Trask. Directed by Braden Chapman. With Braden Chapman and Lynne McGhee. By the Glitterati Theatre Company, at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, Portland, through Aug. 3. Call (207) 775-5568.


• Nothing hurts more than abandonment, so shame on Michael Howard, director of Macbeth by the Stage at Spring Point, for not even showing up the day after the Phoenix panned the show. Was he crying in his beer or looking for a new job? If that’s how he treats his actors, cut him off from both.

The Food Chain, a farce about society’s idea of beauty, is back at Portland Stage’s Studio Theater from July 25 through July 27, at 8 p.m. Tickets are pay-what-you-can ($15 suggested). Proceeds will improve the Studio Theater space, including comfier seats! The show’s September run was among the Phoenix’s most memorable theatrical moments of 2002.

• The Camden Civic Theatre is accepting play and musical submissions from directors for its 2004 season. For more information, call Ron Hawkes at (207) 239-2092. Deadline is August 8.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Coke bust near S.P. school

Published in the Current and the American Journal

Two 25-year-olds were arrested July 9 on charges of trafficking in cocaine in a home at 566 Ocean Street, just a few doors away from the Hamlin School in South Portland.

A search of the house resulted in the seizure of three handguns, two rifles, a shotgun, several magazines and rounds of ammunition, $8,100 in cash, two scales, seven drug-packaging plastic bags, three tablets of OxyContin “packaged for resale,” methadone and a crack pipe.

The house is “well within the 1,000 feet” drug-free school zone required by state law, said Scott Pelletier, a supervising special agent with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, which conducted a search at the home and arrested the two people living there.

Mark Morin and Cheryl Gallant were arrested and have been charged with felony aggravated trafficking in cocaine-related drugs. Both have posted bail. Their cases will go before a Cumberland County Grand Jury next month, Pelletier said.

Morin and Gallant had left the home as MDEA agents and South Portland police were preparing to enter the home, just before 9:30 p.m., July 9. The pair was driving away in Morin’s Chevrolet Suburban when the vehicle was stopped. They were each found in possession of “an amount of crack cocaine.”

The warrant was served shortly thereafter. Agents had made special arrangements for entering the home unannounced, as they were expecting children to be in the home. “There are children there routinely,” Pelletier said.

There were none, and the kids are now “with their mothers,” Pelletier said.

In late May, an anonymous informant told South Portland Detective Steven Webster, assigned to the MDEA, that Morin was “selling cocaine base in the Greater Portland area,” according to the search warrant filed in Portland District Court.

The informant told him Morin “was known to move frequently” and usually carried a handgun when making drug deals.

On July 2, a second informant told Webster Morin was “selling in excess of one ounce of cocaine base per day” and was also “trading cocaine base for guns.”

The source, who said Morin had recently gotten three friends addicted to cocaine, also told Webster that Morin had an “extremely vicious” pit bull.

It was so vicious, in fact, that a South Portland police officer, investigating an unrelated July 4 complaint that the pit bull had attacked someone, had to shoot at the dog to turn away an attack himself. The shot missed, and the dog was unhurt.

On July 9, the day of residential trash collection in the neighborhood, police searched the trash from 566 Ocean Street and found 11 filters “used when smoking cocaine base or crack cocaine,” 10 plastic bags “commonly used for packaging drugs for sale,” four sandwich bags “that appeared to have cocaine residue” and one of which tested positive for cocaine in a field test, two used hypodermic needles and a plastic crack pipe, according to court documents.

Webster then applied for a search warrant allowing unannounced entry during nighttime hours because, the warrant states, cocaine evidence could be destroyed if the entry was announced, and because of fear Morin “may use deadly or non-deadly force in resistance.”

Guimond appointed new S.P. fire chief

Published in the Current and the American Journal

Kevin Guimond of Cape Elizabeth, a 16-year veteran of the South Portland Fire Department, is the new South Portland fire chief, replacing John True Jr., who retired in April after 10 years in the top slot and 35 years in firefighting.

Deputy Chief Miles Haskell has been acting chief in the interim and will continue as deputy chief. City Manager Jeff Jordan said 11 people applied for the job, mostly from Greater Portland, with “a handful” from within the South Portland Fire Department.

One of those was Westbrook Fire Chief Gary Littlefield, who told this newspaper he had interviewed for the job.

Jordan called Guimond, 36, who up until now was a lieutenant with the department, “a real bright guy” with a lot of experience. He is a paramedic level instructor who “has really been a part of a lot of major decisions” in the department, including the West End Fire Station committee and the decision to consolidate fire and police dispatching, Jordan said.

Guimond found out about his new job Friday afternoon and was “excited” about the decision. He wants to “continue the path we’re on,” with cross training to give firefighters other skills, including emergency medicine and hazardous materials handling.

He said he is interested in the department’s conversation about sharing services with Cape Elizabeth, but “it’s got to be the right fit.”

“Our call companies are running really well,” Guimond said. One way to improve them could be to share staff. “Neither community has enough call staff,” he said.

Guimond, who also is a part-time paramedic with the Cape Elizabeth Rescue, could be a good candidate to bridge any gaps between the departments, which already share an extensive mutual-aid agreement.

He will “take a little break” from his work in Cape Elizabeth to focus on his new job, but hopes to be able to be involved there.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Lightning strikes: Energetic performances Grease Arundel Barn's wheels

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Starting with a back-flipping entrance by Danny Zuko (Brad Bass), Grease is off to a dynamic run at the Arundel Barn Playhouse. The cast clearly has fun, and the excitement is contagious as cast and audience together relive senior year at Rydell High.

The show revisits the days when kids could make zip guns in school, restroom machines sold four condoms for a quarter, and enlisting in the military didn’t qualify you for welfare. This is a ’50s piece, and there is a desire to remain true to the original, but given the number of young children in the audience, having characters even fake smoking seems questionable.

It is a fun play about life in high school, with some important lessons for those who wish to hear: Peer pressure is compelling, being true to yourself is better than being a tease, ridicule hurts, and dropping out of school is a bad idea.

Perhaps, though, the biggest lesson of an adult production of Grease are the contrasts between it and the more common high-school performances based on the same script. Miss Lynch (Mary Jo Keffer) is an excellent tipsy teacher, raising a glass each time she appears on stage. DJ Vince Fontaine (Jim Appleby) is a leering and lecherous older man, who makes out at the prom just like any of the students. Appleby also plays the Teen Angel, who delivers a stern and dark lecture for wayward youth.

And an entire song is restored from the original, one usually not seen in high school: Roger (Daniel Petrotta) sings the hilarious love ballad " Mooning, " which is either about staring at the evening sky or showing off young bare bottoms in public.

It is in " Mooning " and many of the other songs that the choreography really shows what Grease is about. There is flirty touching and peeking, as well as strong grinding and suggestive body language no principal would permit in the auditorium.

The girls, led by Ellen Domingos (as Betty Rizzo) and Kendra Doyle (as Sandy Dumbrowski), dance and sing their hearts out. The Burger Palace Boys dance, too, in a macho style that at times includes push-ups. Ryland Shelton (as Sonny) is the smoothest mover, but Bass (as Danny) is the star of these dance numbers, performing Elvis moves and a twisting round-off across the entire stage.

On opening night Bass literally danced his pants off at the prom, splitting the crotch of his trousers from stem to stern in a display that cracked up the entire cast as well as the audience. Admirably, the cast covered the situation while remaining in character, and had the presence of mind to let the moment ride, stopping the show as everyone — Bass included — collapsed laughing.

Petrotta (as Roger) retained the composure to ad-lib as the scene ended: Dancing with his sweetheart and " making conversation " the way awkward teens will, he said, " I split my pants one time, but not in front of an audience. "

It is truly a musical, with good harmony and a great three-piece band including two local students, Asher Platts from USM and Michael Whiston from Kennebunk High School. In a theater with no amplification, they made music that was easy to hear but did not overpower the singing, except when the singers’ voices themselves were especially weak (most notably Douglas Ullman Jr. as Doody, who just plain could not be heard). Again Bass stole the show with an excellent range and strong voice that conveyed those most high school of emotions: angst, unrequited love, and hope.

It is also a play, however, with character development and spoken performances throughout. A choice to have simultaneous and separate scenes from time to time showed the distance — despite interrelations — between the characters, and putting Miss Lynch and Vince Fontaine on as side shows during scene changes kept the action moving well.

The set was also cleverly simple yet versatile, going from high-school auditorium stage to playground to cafeteria and then the larger-than-life car, Greased Lightning.

In one sense, it is easy to play to a stereotype, but clearly these actors take their work seriously. Most are based in New York and were cast during auditions there. It is the sign of an excellent director that the actors have fun on stage, and enjoy the disco ball as much as the audience.

Written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Directed and choreographed by Robert Jay Cronin. With Brad Bass and Kendra Doyle. At the Arundel Barn Playhouse, in Arundel, through July 19. Call (207) 985-5552.


• What’s better than an outdoor performance of Hair? One at a field named for the Hindu word meaning " I salute your inner spirit. " Peace and Love Productions is putting on the show at Namaste Field in Acton, each weekend from July 12 through August 10. Profits support charities Peace Action Maine and Call (207) 490-1210. (Leave the kids home: Hair contains nudity, strong language, and unkempt manes.)

Generic Theater opens the Players’ Ring’s summer late-night series July 11 through 13. These shows are late — starting at 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and Sunday at 9:30 p.m. One play is Skillful Maneuvers by Dover native Mark Towle, following a detective examining a tornado-wrecked crime scene. A monologue, written and performed by Portsmouth’s Roland Goodbody, looks back 30 years at a chance encounter with a Woman on a Train.

Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Voters will decide GAN

Published in the American Journal

A Scarborough-wide petition drive has gathered enough signatures to force a referendum vote on the Great American Neighborhood contract zone passed June 19 by the Town Council.

The election is expected to be set for July 29, though the formal scheduling will not occur until the July 16 council meeting, which will also include a public hearing on the 397-unit, cluster housing project in Dunstan.

Because of the high school construction, polls will be at Wentworth Intermediate School.

Those opposed to the project, calling themselves NoGAN, needed to get 2,014 signatures of registered voters on a petition requesting a referendum on the project, now called Dunstan Crossing. The deadline was July 9, but things went very quickly.

“We had 2,400 (signatures) in the first six days,” said organizer Deb Greenwich. Knowing that some would be invalidated because the signers were not registered Scarborough voters, organizers kept the drive going, and turned in a total of 3,370 signatures as of the American Journal’s deadline. More were expected.

Town Clerk Yolande Justice and her staff validated only the minimum number, confirming Tuesday afternoon that there were enough.

“We’ve really pulled the town people together,” said organizer Lisa Douglas. “We like our town being a town and don’t want it to be a miniurban area.”

To make the referendum valid, 2,014 voters must turn out to actually vote. To that end, Douglas, Greenwich and others will be calling people who signed the petition, to remind them of the date and location of the election.

A“yes” vote on the ballot question upholds the council’s decision to allow the project, and a “no” vote overturns it.

GAN Developer Elliott Chamberlain said Tuesday, “I’m not totally shocked,” about the number of signatures gathered, but added he doesn’t think that every signature represents a “no” vote.

Asked how he was going to respond to the referendum, Chamberlain said, “I don’t really have any defined plans. I’ve never been through this process.”

Justice is already seeking election clerks to work July 29, expecting the election to be scheduled for that date.

The large “vote here” banner normally hanging over Gorham Road outside the high school on voting days will be hung up at the tennis courts near the entrance to Wentworth, to remind passers-by that voting is going on.

Friday, July 4, 2003

Hard to defend: The arboretum do come to Battery Rivardi

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Outdoor theater has returned to Greater Portland, but with a puff of smoke rather than the hoped-for bang. The reuse of the area’s coastal forts, little used in times of war, as a theatrical venue is fascinating and full of incredible potential but in the Stage’s performance of Macbeth, the absent guns fired mostly blanks.

No doubt John Jacob Ulrich Rivardi, a coastal-defense engineer for George Washington, would be stunned to see the changes to the 1900-era gun emplacement bearing his name. The gun mount is now a stage, with the surrounding earthen embankments as wings from which characters can majestically enter, and, after exiting, go downslope to be hidden from view.

Instead of being blacked out to avoid being spotted from offshore, the show’s lights shine brightly above a spare set with new features added seamlessly to the concrete. Sadly, either the lights are badly aimed or the actors just plain miss their marks; several scenes’ lighting cuts off heads, feet, and even whole people.

On-stage and off-stage spaces are used cleverly, though "the wings" could use a bit more concealment: A chance glance to one side gave this reviewer a glimpse of a topless Lady Macbeth mid-costume change.

Some details are clearly well thought-out, including techno-urban costumes to fit the concrete and the clever use of gun tie-down points as musical instruments. Others hurt the performance, like the director’s quixotic choice to have several actors continually speak away from the audience.

The weakest element, however, is Seth Rigoletti, playing Macbeth. This was his vision, and should have been his to direct. Instead he has forced his director, Michael Howard, to either criticize the boss (Rigoletti is the Stage’s executive director) or shut up and run a substandard show.

Ironically the energetic young activist/actor does not "get" Macbeth, a power-hungry up-and-coming noble who treacherously elevates himself to the throne, where he becomes a jealous murdering despot.

Instead, Rigoletti plays an effete, frivolous king. His delivery, unlike most of the others’, is too fast and toneless. Shakespeare’s words are difficult for modern ears and minds. They need help from inflection, and get none from the lead actor. Picture Saddam Hussein delivering the following line: "False face doth hide what false heart doth know." Now imagine Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean. The first is Macbeth, the latter, Rigoletti as Macbeth.

Lady Macbeth (Miranda Hope) is far hungrier and greedier, a dark, strong character underlying and supporting her husband’s tyrannical ways. Yet her ardor seems almost comical faced with a mincing Macbeth.

The castle porter (Chris Holt) manages to reclaim some of the bawdy nature of Shakespeare, playing to the audience with a brief appearance that gets no help from the rough and at times wooden attempts of others of the supporting cast.

Not all should be tarred with this brush, however. Tony Correla (as Banquo) and Paul Drinan (as Macduff), along with Hope, are the strongest actors in this performance. Correla should have had the lead, to counter Drinan’s powerful portrayal of the anguished loyal general. Perhaps Denver Whisman (the menacing Seyton) would have been a good choice in a larger role.

And the sisters, as they are termed in this production though normally known as "the witches," are excellent and well used. Played by Deborah O’Connor, Elizabeth Enck, and Reba Short, they are allowed to have their cauldron and ceremonies in dead center stage, in the same place where Macbeth later hosts his friends. This effect is a vast improvement over other productions, which force them to make camp on the side stage.

As the play darkens, so does the sky. And down come the real pestilence: mosquitoes. Things were so bad during the first few shows that now the City of South Portland is spraying during the day. There is also spraying just before the show and at intermission, and tons of bug dope on hand for the asking. (Of course, all of these airborne chemicals may somewhat dim the feeling of a "fresh air" performance.)

From the outset, the production struggles with its bigness. The script (five acts, 28 scenes), the cast (near 30 without extras), the ideas (violence and vengeance cycling bloodily) — all are tough for any theater company, much less a brand-new one trying to make a splash. The Tempest might have been a better starting point, for its context and manageability. The most ringing critique is Shakespeare’s own, of life as "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Michael Howard. With Seth Rigoletti, Miranda Hope, Tony Correla, and Paul Drinan. At the Stage at Spring Point, in South Portland, through July 12. Call (207) 828-0128.


Acadia Repertory Theatre has hung out its barn-board sign. Now through July 13 is Proof, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Auburn, which looks at a family’s relationships as they dance along the line between madness and genius. The Public Theatre had a great run of it last year, and the play will also be at Lakewood and Portland Stage before 2003 is done.

Generic Theater will continue its explorations of new works with a public reading of The Gardens of Frau Hess, the first play by Milton Frederick Marcus, at Kittery’s Rice Public Library July 8 at 7 p.m. It looks at the relationship between the wife of Nazi honcho Rudolf Hess and her concentration-camp-inmate gardener.

Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Towns agree to force haulers to use RWS

Published in the Current and the American Journal; co-written with Josh Williamson

Area communities have begun following Portland’s lead in requiring private waste haulers to agree, in binding contracts, to bring the waste they collect to Regional Waste Systems, a move even proponents consider just a temporary fix for the incinerator’s budget woes.

Since Portland first hammered out the contract model earlier this spring, Gorham, Windham and South Portland have each adopted nearly identical ordinances and contract requirements in recent weeks. Gorham and Windham officials teamed together when negotiating with hauling companies over the past three weeks and are requiring identical contracts in order for haulers to get permits in those communities.

“We have to give a lot of credit to Portland in this,” said Windham Town Manager Tony Plante. “They put a lot of work and time into this, and we just had to tweak it a little bit to fit our specific situations.”

The ordinance is in response to a decision by RWS to cover a budget shortfall by charging member towns fees if they don’t deliver set amounts of trash to RWS’ incinerator each year. Rather than pass the fees along to residents, the communities have chosen to force haulers to go to RWS, which is more expensive than nearby competitors.

The Maine Energy Recovery Company in Biddeford charges roughly $78 per ton, compared to $88 at RWS, and there is a facility in Auburn that charges $55 per ton.

In South Portland, the majority of both haulers and city councilors agreed to the measure, but called it an imperfect and short-term solution they were not truly comfortable with.

“We see this as a temporary measure for the next couple of years,” City Manager Jeffrey Jordan told councilors before they approved the ordinance. In 2005 RWS may be able to refinance some of its debt and improve its financial situation, Jordan said. The city’s proposal fills “a two-year gap to buy us time to plan for the future of RWS,” he said.

Jordan said most haulers will sign the agreement. Filomena Troiano, owner of Troiano Waste Services, told the council she would do so because “this is just short-term.”

“I still don’t believe it’s right” for the council to tell haulers where to take their trash, she said. She is also “a little skeptical” about RWS’ ability to become competitive, she said.

South Portland councilors expressed dissatisfaction with the situation, but said it would start to address the issue. Councilor-at-large Robert Fickett opposed the ordinance in the vote, saying it was unconstitutionally imposing flow control.

John Papi, owner of Pine State Disposal, told councilors he would not sign such an agreement. “I don’t think it’s a fair deal,” he said. “It’s flow control. It’s unconstitutional.”

In an interview, Papi complained that each town was charging fees for haulers, and simultaneously requiring them to pay more to dump trash. Gorham charges $1,400, Portland $500 and Standish $200 for hauling permits, he said.

Papi questioned the ability of city officials to enforce the ordinance. “Are they going to follow everyone around at 3 o’clock in the morning?” he asked. He said many people ignore city ordinances, including leash laws and pooper-scooper regulations.

“What are they going to do – put me in jail for picking up trash?” Papi asked.

In Windham, however, enforcing the ordinance and making sure haulers have permits and are taking their trash to RWS will become a priority for police and other officials, Plante warned.

“This does put the obligation on the communities to enforce the rules,” Plante said. “Let this be a message. If there are haulers doing business without licenses, we are going to find them and enforce the ordinance.”

Gorham Town Manager David Cole, who along with Plante met with haulers two weeks ago, said it was an advantage to both the towns and the haulers for the two communities to present a united front in negotiations. He said it saved the haulers the time of meeting twice over the same proposal, and gave the towns a little leverage.

Both the Windham and Gorham town councils have begun approving the identical contracts with each hauler individually. The Gorham Council had authorized Cole to look into creating a “franchise” system, where the town would reach a contract with just one hauling company to pick up all the trash, putting the contract out to bid among the haulers. The haulers’ willingness to sign the contracts made this unnecessary, however, he said.

“If we have haulers who are willing to be cooperative, then this will solve the problems, and solve it more quickly than the franchise option,” Cole said. “I think if we end up going the route of franchising, it effectively limits our options in the future. It’s awfully hard to go back and try a different route once you franchise.”

Gorman gets 60 years as victim’s father sentences him to hell

Published in the Current and the American Journal

Jeffrey “Russ” Gorman, 23, who lived in Scarborough and spent time working and socializing in Westbrook, was sentenced Monday to 60 years in prison for murdering Amy St. Laurent after a night of dancing and drinking in the Old Port Oct. 21, 2001.

His attorney plans to appeal the conviction and the sentence on grounds that the judge allowed inadmissible material to become evidence at trial.

The prosecution had asked for a life sentence – or 65 years at a minimum – on the basis of Gorman’s “anti-social personality,” lack of remorse and a psychological evaluation placing him “at significant risk to reoffend,” according to Assistant Attorney General Fernand LaRochelle.

Gorman’s attorney, Clifford Strike, had requested a 38-year sentence, arguing that despite the psychological evaluation, “this is a person who is capable of making gains.” Strike blamed much of the situation on Gorman’s difficult upbringing.

Before Justice Nancy Mills handed down the sentence, St. Laurent’s family spoke to the court. Her father, Dennis St. Laurent, threatened Gorman. “If you ever come out from behind those walls, I’ll send you to hell myself,” he said. St. Laurent asked for the death sentence – not a possibility in Maine.

Amy’s sister Julie, through tears, told of her anguish at how close she was to Amy in her sister’s time of need. The night Amy disappeared, Julie was “around the corner in the Old Port.” And for seven weeks while the family searched for Amy’s body, Julie drove County Road from Gorham to Portland – past the shallow grave where Amy was buried – multiple times a day. “She was right there the whole time,” Julie said.

Amy’s mother, Diane Jenkins, spoke eloquently of her older daughter, showing photos and telling stories of ways Amy helped friends in need. Thinking of Amy’s last moments, “the fear, pain and horror,” Jenkins said, “invades my thoughts, wakes my sleep and breaks my heart.”

Asking for a tough sentence, she told Mills, “please show him the compassion that he showed my daughter when he put a gun to the back of her head and pulled the trigger.”

Clutching a framed picture of Amy, Jenkins turned to face Gorman and said, “this is my daughter. And this is now how I get to hold my daughter.”

Gorman’s mother, Tammy Westbrook, spoke as well. In a disjointed plea for clemency, she told Mills her son is a good man. “He is not evil. He is not a monster.” And while she said she felt bad for the St. Laurent family, “no one ever thinks about being in my shoes.”

Gorman then sent Strike over to ask Westbrook to stop. When she would not, Gorman spoke up. “Just sit down, mom,” he said. She refused, turning the podium over to her daughter, Gorman’s sister Brittany, who professed her brother’s innocence and told the St. Laurent family, “I know that you guys are unhappy too and I’m really sorry.”

Mills then spoke to explain her sentence. “I expect that no one in the courtroom will be pleased with what I do,” she said. “I do not consider this to be a life sentence case.”

Mills concluded that the evidence did not support allegations that Gorman sexually assaulted St. Laurent, nor that the killing was premeditated.

Mills recounted Gorman’s troubled past, starting with his deceit of police investigating the St. Laurent disappearance, and including a juvenile conviction in Florida, drug use starting at age 12, and fathering two children for whom he does not now provide.

Mills told Gorman he could not hide behind an excuse of a bad life and had “chosen not to make those gains” that could have helped him improve his life.

“You have shown absolutely no remorse. To this moment you remain defiant,” Mills told Gorman as she told him he would have to spend 60 years behind bars.

After the sentencing, Strike told the American Journal he would appeal. One problem he had with the trial was that Mills allowed Westbrook’s grand jury testimony to become evidence without being challenged by defense attorneys.

During Gorman’s trial in January, Westbrook claimed she had no memory of speaking with her son after St. Laurent’s body was found and did not remember telling a grand jury about the conversation, in which Gorman allegedly confessed the crime.

Deputy Attorney General William Stokes said the appeal would likely not go to oral arguments until January 2004.

Mall built on pig farm could sell for $250 million

Published in the Current and the American Journal; co-written with Brendan Moran

Maine’s largest retail property, the Maine Mall, is up for sale, and some speculate the one-time pig farm could go for $250 million.

Until the late 1960s, the land was home to a number of pig farms. “There was at least 1,000 pigs in there – or more,” remembered Bob Fickett, a South Portland councilor who raised pigs himself on a Highland Avenue farm.

The area’s pig farmers were paid by towns to pick up trash, which they would then bring back to the farm, boil to sterilize and feed to the pigs. “Garbage that was worthless provided an income,” Fickett said.

In the late 1960s, Massachusetts developer William Lane purchased the land
piecemeal from the owners. He died in 1969, and his estate sold the parcels to Julian Cohen of Eliot, Maine. The land was wet and not great for building. “T ey drained a lot of it when they went in there” to build the mall, Fickett said.

Even now, “when they build out there they have to put in pilings that run dozens of feet into the ground,” said South Portland City Manager Jeff Jordan. The location was perfect, at the intersection of I-95 and I-295. The mall flourished, expanding several times and buying up land to create other shopping areas in the region.

Cashing out on top
S.R. Weiner & Associates, one of the companies that now owns the mall, plans to sell the 1.2 million square feet of retail space, which includes leases with Filene’s, Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Sears, Best Buy and Linens n’ Things.

Sources familiar with the mall’s operations and commercial real estate said the mall could sell for around $250 million.

Cigna Insurance and the New York State Teachers Retirement System own the mall with S.R. Weiner. Tom DeSimone, the executive vice president of S.R. Weiner, said the decision to sell the mall was unanimous.

“We did it because it made a lot of sense,” said DeSimone. Low interest rates have created a seller’s market. DeSimone also said that because the mortgage will mature next year, this would be an opportunity to sell it without debt.

“If you’re considering selling, there’s no question the time is now,” said Tom Moulton, a principal at NAI/The Dunham Group, a company that specializes in marketing commercial real estate. Moulton said the real estate market has been hot for the last couple years, but it’s unclear how long that will last.

“There is a very competitive market for this type of property, and it has a longstanding track record for outstanding economic performance,” said Jerre Bryant, the former general manager at the Maine Mall and currently the administrative assistant in Westbrook.

Bryant said the Maine Mall can charge higher rents than the demographics can support because it has virtually no competition. He said the mall also gets a boost from summer tourists. He said the mall did market research that proved as much in 1998.

“What we learned is the summer tourist in Maine is generally pretty affluent,” said Bryant. “They do spend money, and they spend it at the Maine Mall.”

Bryant said the sale made sense from S.R. Weiner’s perspective because the mall wouldn’t continue to expand at the rate it has. DeSimone said the mall has tripled in size since Stephen Weiner, the founder of S.R. Weiner & Associates, purchased it in 1981.

“The mall will continue to appreciate in value,” said Bryant. “It’s just that the rate of growth certainly was greater for the last 10 years than one would anticipate in the next 10 years. So I think the timing is good from an investment return standpoint.”

Bryant said S.R. Weiner is a much different company than it was 20 years ago. The Maine Mall was the first retail property Weiner bought, and, Bryant said, for many years it was the anchor in his real estate portfolio.

Weiner bought the mall in 1981 from Leatherbee and Company – Julian Cohen’s real estate company. Before buying the mall, Weiner
had been an executive at Leatherbee.

S.R. Weiner now owns and manages about 50 retail properties or about 14 million square feet of commercial space. Its sister company, W/S Development Associates, is currently developing 2.6 million square feet of commercial space, which includes the old Bradlees Plaza in Westbrook.

“We’ve all been in this deal for a long time,” said DeSimone. “Some of us for as much as 22 years.”

Big contributor to city
South Portland officials will be watching the sale closely to see what company purchases it and for how much. The mall contributes $3.1 million in real estate and personal property taxes to South Portland.

City Assessor Elizabeth Sawyer said the Maine Mall had been looking for a review of its assessment to get $20 million removed from its $142.8 million real estate tax assessment. But Sawyer said that request has been dropped.

Sawyer said the sale would not trigger a reassessment but said she would include the sale information in a review planned for next year, in which she will revisit last year’s revaluation of all properties. “I’m sure assessors throughout New England are going to be very interested” in the sale price, she said.

“We want the type of owner S.R. Weiner was,” said City Manager Jordan. He said the company has done a lot for the community, including supporting the People’s Regional Opportunity Program and holding charity nights around the Christmas holidays.

Jordan said the company approached him five years ago and offered to pay for a full-time police officer for the mall. He said it’s cut down on crime at the mall and saved the city money it would have had to spend on an officer to deal with shoplifting and other crimes at the mall. “Hopefully, that will continue” under the new ownership, said Jordan.

“I’d say there’s a wealth of buyers that could be interested in it,” said DeSimone, who said the buyer could be anything from a large mall management company to a pension fund.

Bryant said the Simon Property Group, the company that manages the mall, would most likely purchase the property. Based in Indianapolis, Ind., Simon Property Group manages 238 properties around the country. “They are the preeminent owner and manager of mall properties in the country,” said Bryant.

A spokesman for the company said they don’t comment before closing on a property. Simon began managing the Maine Mall in February of 2002.

“They never would have taken on the management contract if they didn’t have a desire to become owner,” said Bryant.

Bryant said consumers probably wouldn’t see much of a difference with the mall under new ownership. He said employees would probably see the biggest change.

“It’s not going to be dramatic change,” said Bryant. “I do think by virtue of being a publicly traded company that has to show a return, they do have to be a little more bottom-line oriented.”