Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Buxton woman maintains labyrinth

Published in the American Journal

A Buxton woman is creating a peaceful refuge off Joy Valley Road, including a couple of stone circles and a labyrinth, for meditative walking.

Françoise Paradis built her labyrinth, 60 feet in diameter, out of local sand and stones three years ago, when she moved to town from Presque Isle.

“I moved here because I found this place,” she said. Her home, where she also runs a psychotherapy practice, is in a secluded spot surrounded by trees and grass.

“I have all this lawn, that just called for a labyrinth,” which she had been working with for years to help patients.

Labyrinths date back to ancient times, and are often traced to Crete, though most are not like the labyrinth that trapped the mythical Minotaur, which was a series of winding passages hard to find your way out of.

Before the Crusades, wealthy Europeans went on pilgrimages to the Holy Land. During the 12th century, the Crusades made roads too dangerous to travel. Some cathedrals were declared “pilgrimage cathedrals,” where people could visit and make symbolic journeys by walking a labyrinth. One of those was at Chartres in France.

Labyrinths, like the one at Chartres, on which Paradis’s is based, are not mazes, but rather single paths with multiple turns between the entrance and a destination spot in the center.

In modern times, they are used for spiritual or reflective purposes in many faiths, and not solely as surrogates for Catholics’ journeys to Jerusalem.

They can be used as part of walking meditation, or as a way to spend some prayerful or reflective time.

“The walk in is kind of a metaphor for your life,” Paradis said. The center is a place where realization and enlightenment can be found, while the walk out is a time to integrate the new realizations into your life.

Labyrinths exist all over the world, in various forms, including labyrinth-like designs made by native people in the Americas and Africa.

Paradis, who learned about labyrinths from a friend in northern Maine, had typically used seven-turn labyrinths, based on the Cretan design. “I had never done a Chartres labyrinth” before moving to Buxton, she said. Now, she uses a 13-turn path based on a design at the Chartres Cathedral.

She uses what she calls a “soul-directed approach,” in which she encourages her patients to understand what their souls want to do.

“When our life is aligned with our soul’s purpose, or our soul’s journey, we’re happy,” she said.

Paradis took a similar approach with the labyrinth. Having felt that the space was asking for one, she followed what she felt. “It’s like it guides you,” she said. “You’re not the one that is in control.” She determined the location of the entrance and the positions of stones in the center, and laid out a 60-foot circle by using a dowsing rod and a dowsing pendulum.

Dowsing, most commonly known as a way of seeking underground water, has also taken on a spiritual significance for some, who believe it can be used to determine energy lines in the Earth, or even in the human body.

“A whole bunch of synchronicities happened” during the construction. The man who dug a hole, to be filled with sand for the base of the labyrinth, recommended a landscape architect who lives nearby.

During the early work, Paradis went away to a dowsing conference and attended a workshop on stone circles. When she returned home, the architect was in the middle of laying out a stone circle, having chosen the plan on her own.

The excavator also owned a gravel pit, and delivered a load of stone, which Paradis used to mark the outside of the labyrinth. She went over to the pit and chose stones to line the paths. “I thought it would take me three or four years to collect rocks,” but it was done in a few weekends of work.

Mostly, the labyrinth is used by her patients, either as a way to relax and focus before a therapy session, or during a session, “when they’re stuck” on an issue or need to make an important decision. At those times, Paradis will have her patients walk the labyrinth with a particular intention, and seek inspiration and guidance during the walk.

But other people find Paradis’s Web site,, which is
named after her property. And four or five times a year, they call up to make an appointment to walk it, or ask about retreats Paradis offers.

She has room for eight people to stay, and is working on renovating a barn to allow more lodging.

Most of her retreats are for her patients, though occasionally other groups will be a good fit for her work. She also opens the labyrinth to the public around the summer solstice. Without an appointment, the labyrinth is closed to the public, to protect her patients’ confidentiality.

Her therapy clients have different reactions to the labyrinth. Some walk it once and don’t ever do it again, while others have transforming experiences.

“It takes so long to go through that your mind just goes quiet,” Paradis said. “Once you’re in the path, if you’re going to continue in the path,” you have to focus. Many people are “amazed at how quieting it is.”

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Gorman asks Law Court to reconsider

Published in the Current and the American Journal

The lawyer for convicted murderer Jeffery Gorman says the Maine Supreme Court made a mistake when it upheld Gorman’s conviction, and will ask the court to reconsider. He may also ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case.

Last week, the Maine Supreme Court unanimously upheld Gorman’s conviction for the murder of Amy St. Laurent after a night out in the Old Port in October 2001. In 2003, Gorman was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the crime.

Gorman initially asked the Law Court to reverse his conviction, saying the prosecution’s key evidence should not have been heard by the jury. That evidence was a tape recording of testimony given by Gorman’s mother, Tammy Westbrook, to a Cumberland County grand jury.

Westbrook told the grand jury that Gorman called her Dec. 9, 2001, the day after St. Laurent’s body was found buried in a wooded area off Route 22 in Scarborough.

In that conversation, Westbrook said, Gorman confessed to the crime, and told his mother something nobody but the killer knew: St. Laurent had been shot once in the head.

During the trial, Westbrook testified she had no recollection of speaking to a grand jury, and no memory of any conversation with her son about St. Laurent. She also testified that she was receiving psychiatric treatment for delusions and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The prosecution argued an audio tape recording of Westbrook’s grand jury testimony should be presented as evidence during the trial. Superior Court Judge Nancy Mills agreed.

The evidence figured strongly in the prosecution’s case against Gorman, and jurors in the criminal trial asked to see a transcript of the recording during their deliberations. That was not permitted, but they were allowed to hear the tape played again.

After five hours of deliberation, the jury unanimously convicted Gorman of the murder.

Gorman appealed the conviction, claiming that the tape should not have been played because Westbrook could not be cross-examined about the statements she made in the recording.

The right to cross-examine witnesses is guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Westbrook could not be effectively cross-examined because she did not recall making the statements, or any discussions regarding the case, said Christopher MacLean, an attorney who represented Gorman during the appeal.

In a February interview, MacLean said there might have been enough evidence to convict Gorman of manslaughter, but not murder.

Asking for reconsideration Monday, MacLean reacted to the judgment of the Law Court, which upheld the admission of Westbrook’s recorded grand jury testimony, the murder conviction and the 60-year prison sentence.

“I’m disappointed,” he said. MacLean will ask the court to reconsider its decision, “focusing on the fact that the Maine Law Court really didn’t deal with the problem” of what is and is not admissible testimony.

The appeal process was halted earlier this year when a U.S. Supreme Court decision clarified some aspects of admitting recorded testimony into evidence. Lawyers for Gorman and the Attorney General’s Office updated their arguments before the Maine Supreme Court in light of that ruling.

But in its written decision last week, the Maine judges did not address the issue fully, MacLean said. The new decision demanded that “cross examination really take place,” he said. At Gorman’s trial, “clearly there was no cross-examination on the subject matter” of Westbrook’s testimony.

The Law Court could deny the request or ask for MacLean and the Attorney General’s Office to submit new arguments, either in writing or orally.

Taking the case to Washington
MacLean also said he would discuss with Gorman an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We haven’t made any firm and final decisions in that regard,” MacLean said. He had not yet talked to Gorman, though he had left a phone message at the Maine State Prison and had mailed Gorman a copy of the Maine Supreme Court’s ruling.

“I’m very interested in getting this before the U.S. Supreme Court,” MacLean said. He assumes Gorman will approve the move, which MacLean admitted is “a bit of a long shot.”

A case appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court is not automatically taken up by the country’s highest judges. Instead, lawyers must ask the court to review the case, a request the judges can either accept or deny.

“Who knows whether they would take a case like this,” MacLean said. “The vast majority of requests to the U.S. Supreme Court are denied.”

MacLean, who has never before asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take a case, and has never handled a case before the court, said he believes the court may take the case because it has “public policy” implications, particularly for
domestic violence cases, in which witnesses make statements to police and later claim they cannot remember what they said.

If statements recorded earlier but later disclaimed by witnesses are still admissible, “I shudder to think” of what could happen in large numbers of cases across the country, MacLean said.

A ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court would clarify the rules regarding that type of testimony, even if the justices affirmed the decision of the Maine judges.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Editorial: Covering suicide

Published in the Current

When I spoke to Tim Thompson, father of Timothy L. Thompson II, Tuesday morning, he expressed his hope that "something good" comes of his son's suicide. Several times, he urged me to "be sensitive," saying the community needs togetherness and healing. He also told me that he did not want the issue of suicide "swept under the rug."

In my Page 1 article, I have tried to respond to the community's very public grief, and to provide the assistance a newspaper can: information, context and resources.

The numbers are chilling: 1 in 11 Maine high school students attempt suicide each year. And 1 in 5 of them have seriously considered it. Also, according to Ingraham, 58,000 Mainers call the crisis hotline at 774-HELP every year.

That demonstrates a powerful need. Parents and teachers of young people need to watch for signs of depression and suicidal leanings in every child. Friends need to keep a close watch on each other. Mental-health workers and agencies need to get anti-suicide programs deeper into our schools. A crisis hotline, though an important start, is not enough.

Suicide is something that society at large has typically not addressed directly. Newspapers, as a part of and mirror of society, have followed that lead. But this issue is important, and should not be ignored.

It is heartening that members of the Cape Elizabeth community are joining together to grieve. That may turn, in time, into action.

The decision to cover - and how to cover - Thompson's suicide has been the most difficult of my 10-year career in community journalism.

Initially, my reaction was not to cover it at all, to let the family and friends grieve in private. But when a community grieves, we at the newspaper grieve with you. One way we do that is by telling stories and sharing information.

During my conversations with media ethicists, friends, colleagues, mentors and others - including members of the Thompson family, other Cape residents and mental-health experts - I came to the conclusion that the issue, and this incident as an example of it, is too important to turn our backs on.

Suicide is an important issue in our society, but it is a topic newspapers have traditionally handled poorly.

While older studies created concern that media coverage could lead to additional suicides, more recent studies have shown sensitive and educational news coverage can help teach people about suicide, and may even help reduce risk.

Without news coverage, "the consequence for the community is that a very important issue is not discussed," said Kelly McBridge, an ethicist at the Poynter Institute, a research and education organization for journalists.

In writing the story, I tried to avoid elements that research indicates could have negative effects, and remained sensitive to the concerns of the family and the community.

Please let me know what you think.

Community grieves Thompson's death

Published in the Current

The Cape Elizabeth community is mourning Timothy L. Thompson II, a recent Cape High School graduate who died by suicide Saturday.

The incident has sparked community discussion of the issue of suicide, which is the second-leading cause of death for young adults in Maine. Thompson's family is calling for the public to become more aware of suicide, and has helped to organize several grief-counseling sessions for local teens.

Thompson's is not the only recent suicide in town. In the past few years, two other Cape Elizabeth residents have died by suicide, Cape Police Chief Neil Williams said. One was an older man and the other was a male teenager.

The community response to Thompson's death included a public grief-counseling session Tuesday at the Cape Community Center.

About 250 people - teens, parents, teachers and other community members - attended the meeting, which began with Cape High School Principal Jeff Shedd saying the community needs to "support one another" in the grieving process for "Timmy Thompson, whose smile we all remember."

Thompson was a three-sport athlete who graduated from Cape High School in June. He was planning to attend Bridgton Academy this fall.

Thompson's father, Tim, spoke to the crowd Tuesday, as he has been doing at other private grief gatherings over the past few days. He urged the teens in the room to "try to talk this out." There is no point in asking "what if," Thompson said.

He said Timmy had been struggling with some emotional issues lately, and the support of the community helped immensely. "We really couldn't have done any more than we were doing. We need to heal as a community," he added.

He said facing their grief together is something his son would want them to do.

"He was a good friend. He was a loyal friend," Thompson said, asking the community to be strong, supportive friends for each other.

After a brief speech by fifth-grade teacher Kathy Walsh, who taught Tim in 1996-97, Anne Lynch, executive director of the Center for Grieving Children, spoke.

She told the teens in the room, "Your parents are very worried about you, and they will be checking on you more than you would like. You may need to check on them, too."

She said teens heading off to college are especially vulnerable because they will be far from their usual support networks.

Mental-health experts agree there is no way to explain why a person commits suicide. That often makes it even harder for survivors to cope with their grief.

Lynch encouraged people to talk about their memories and to give voice to their sadness. "It breaks down the walls of isolation" and helps young people grieve in healthy ways, she said.

In a Wednesday interview, Lynch said people at Tuesday's gathering had "pretty typical concerns," including parents' worries about their kids' safety, and kids' hopes to keep Thompson's memory alive.

She told parents they should work with their children, to help them stay safe while still allowing the kids space and time to mourn. "Right now the teens have a real need to be together," Lynch said. But, parents want to preserve some kind of family structure, such as having everyone home at mealtimes.

Lynch said eating properly and getting rest are important to the grieving process. "What is naturally starting to happen is these kids are starting to hang out at people's homes," which is good because it allows some parental supervision without being intrusive.

Help is available
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Mainers between the ages of 15 and 24, after car accidents, according to the Maine Youth Suicide Prevention Program. Each year there are about 20 suicides of young adults in Maine.

The problem also affects other age groups. Between one and three children under the age of 15 commit suicide in Maine each year.

The demographic group with the highest suicide rate in Maine is single white males between the ages of 55 and 70, according to Scott Hutcherson, clinical director of crisis services at Ingraham, a statewide non-profit social service agency.

Nationally, suicide rates have risen since 1950. Maine's suicide rate has generally followed national trends, though Maine's incidence is slightly higher than the national average. The state has the 19th-highest suicide rate in the country.

According to statewide self-reporting surveys, 1 in 11 high school students in Maine attempt suicide each year. Nationwide, nearly 1 in 5 high school students has seriously considered suicide.

There are a number of agencies able to help people considering suicide or dealing with other emotional and psychological issues.

Among them are Ingraham and Sweetser, which run a crisis hotline (774-HELP) operating around the clock all year. Anyone can call the hotline, and get both immediate assistance and help finding further aid, including referrals to counselors.

In fact, 58,000 people call the hotline each year, Hutcherson said. Most are "clients feeling so hopeless that they're suicidal." Counselors work to keep them safe and help them find ways to seek treatment.

The Cape schools also have counselors who are available to talk with students and other young people in need. The Cape police, when they are called upon, typically take distressed people to the hospital for evaluation.

Even non-professionals can help identify people at risk, and can encourage them to seek professional help.

Hutcherson said there are two common myths about discussing suicide. The first is that "if you talk about suicide, someone will become more suicidal." In fact, he said, the reverse is true. Talking to a person about suicide can reduce the risk of them attempting suicide. Just suggesting there are other options for solving problems, no matter how serious they seem, can be a big help.

The second myth is that mentioning suicide will give someone the idea. Instead, Hutcherson said, talking about suicide can open a line of communication that can help save a life. He said it's important to have someone who can listen without judging, and to urge a person to seek help.

While many people have sad or depressed feelings, it is the loss of hope that can lead a person to consider suicide, Hutcherson said.

A person begins to feel as if there are only two options: living with whatever pain and problems are in the present, and suicide. They lose sight of the possibilities of the future, and lose focus on the potential for change. Friends and counselors can help people see other options, and can help offer solutions to problems, he said.

How to get help
If you or a loved one needs help, call the Crisis Service Hotline at 774-HELP. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, it is supported by both Ingraham and Sweetser, mental-health support agencies with long histories in Southern Maine. A statewide hotline is at 1-888-568-1112. Counselors can help deal with immediate crises and will develop long-term plans for handling mental-health issues.
For help with grieving, call the Center for Grieving Children at 775-5216 for information on grief support and counseling.

What to look for in young people
Not all adolescent attempters may admit their intent. Therefore, any deliberate self-harming behaviors should be considered serious and in need of further evaluation.
Many teenagers may display one or more of the problems or "signs" detailed below. The following list describes some potential factors of risk for suicide among youth. If observed, a professional evaluation is strongly recommended.:
-Presence of a psychiatric disorder (e.g., depression, drug or alcohol use, behavior disorders, conduct disorders [e.g., runs away or has been incarcerated]).
-The expression/communication of thoughts of suicide, death, dying or the afterlife (in a context of sadness, boredom or negative feelings).
-Impulsive and aggressive behavior; frequent expressions of rage.
-Previous exposure to other's suicidality.
-Recent severe stressor (e.g., difficulties in dealing with sexual orientation; unplanned pregnancy or other significant real or impending loss).
-Family loss or instability; significant family conflict.
---American Association for Suicidology

Friday, June 11, 2004

Summer feast: Maine's theaters fire up the footlights

Published in the Portland Phoenix

The time has come for me to shift focus and leave the world of reviewing theater for the Phoenix. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop attending or enjoying Maine’s myriad theatrical offerings.

Here is the list I’ll use to plan my summer theater outings.

First, close to home are several great options.

• At Ogunquit Playhouse, make sure to see Les Miserables, performed entirely by students, running from June 17 through 19. And for five days only, June 21 through 26, catch Sally Struthers and Christa Jackson back this summer in Always...Patsy Cline. A three-week run of Cats will be a highlight in the midsummer, from July 27 through August 14. Ogunquit always gets good people to perform, with strong direction and a great sound system in an air-conditioned space. Tickets are $29 to $45; call (207) 646-5511.

• Among the offerings at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick is the story of a hidden village’s centennial reappearance, and the love that springs from its discovery. Brigadoon will run from July 21 through August 7. Maine’s only professional music theater, MSMT always does a great job finding singers and performers who enrapture audiences and enchant the stage, so a story like Brigadoon is a natural match. Tickets run from $26 to $44. Call (207) 725-8769.

• At the Children’s Theatre of Maine in Portland, kids from 2 to 92 will be enthralled by the magical world of Fairy Houses, adapted by CTM Artistic Director Pamela DiPasquale from the book by Tracy Kane. It follows a young girl on vacation in Maine who finds fairy shelters and wonders what happens inside them. Runs from July 7 through August 7. Call (207) 828-0617. Tickets cost $7 for children and seniors, $9 for adults.

Arundel Barn, a great spot with great ability to draw strong performers, will end their summer season with tick, tick...BOOM!, a show by Rent author Jonathan Larson, offering insight into the mind of a composer feeling stuck (August 3 through 14); and Idols of the King (August 17 through September 4), exploring the fans and myths of Elvis Presley. Tickets are $19 to $24. Call (207) 985-5552.

Those crossing the border to New Hampshire can enjoy not only sales-tax-free shopping, but strong theater performances as well.

• At the Players’ Ring in Portsmouth, NH, every Tuesday night from June 15 through August 24 will bring something new, with Tuesday Night Improv, hosted by local theater troupe Stranger Than Fiction. Other strong showings at the historic building near Prescott Park will include I Know This Is Not Goodbye, a pair of new one-acts by Seacoast playwright Lars Trodson (July 9 through 11); Dead Lawyers, about a "totally dysfunctional" law firm and how the American legal system really works, based on interviews with citizens about their lawyers (July 23 through 25); the Harvey Fierstein play Tidy Endings, about the aftermath of a death from AIDS (August 6 through 8); and a pair of true Cold War spy stories by Alan Bennett (Single Spies: An Englishman Abroad from August 8 through 10, and Single Spies: A Question of Attribution from August 20 through 23). Call (603) 436-8123. Tickets are $10.

Pontine Theater has finished a new community collaborative project called Portraits of the Past, based on the history of Portsmouth’s Rundlet-May House. The text is drawn from an 1852 article from Portsmouth’s Daily Morning Chronicle about James Rundlet, the merchant who built the house in 1807; a family history written by Ralph May, the last descendant of James Rundlet; and letters written by family members. The play will be performed twice, on June 20 and June 26. Admission is free. Seating is limited, however, so reservations are encouraged. Call (603) 436-6660.

And for planning your field trips and weekend getaways, look at these shows in fantastic destination spots around Maine:

• When you’re in Bar Harbor, stop off at Acadia Repertory Theater, where the amazing relationship between Alfred Steiglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe is explored in Lanie Robertson’s play Alfred Stieglitz Loves O’Keeffe from June 28 through July 11. The solid, if rustic, performances at Acadia Rep are very enjoyable, especially when you’re relaxed from a day on the beach or hiking the hills of Mount Desert Island. And from July 13 through 25 Acadia Rep will also put on the Marie Jones play Stones In His Pockets, the Maine premiere of a play about Hollywood invading a small Irish town. The comparison between that town and Waterville’s Empire Falls experience last summer could be fascinating. Call (207) 244-7260 for tickets, which cost $20 for general admission.

• At Lakewood Theater near Skowhegan are several shows Mainers have liked at other local venues, including the musical romantic comedy I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (July 1 through 10); the noir comedy Red Herring (July 15 through 22); and the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Proof (August 26 through September 4). Call (207) 474-7176 for tickets, from $18 to $26.

Theater at Monmouth, always well worth the drive, will show off its Shakespearean strength in As You Like It (July 2 through August 21) and Antony and Cleopatra (July 30 through August 19), as well as comic range in The Liar (July 8 through August 21), Idiot’s Delight (July 23 through August 20), and The Complete History of America, humorously abridged to fit into two hours including intermission (August 10 and 17). Call (207) 933-9999 for tickets, which range from $20 to $26.

• A quick-hit festival not to be missed is the ≤15 Minute Festival in Belfast, honoring pieces that take less than 15 minutes to perform. The festival will have performances of winning pieces August 27 and 28 and staged readings of the runners-up August 20 and 21. Several workshops will be held in the intervening week. For more information, call (207) 338-1615.

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Healthcare reform plan

Won an Honorable Mention in a healthcare reform contest run by CodeBlueNow

Executive summary

This proposal is based on the principles in the Health Care Magna Carta, at and included in Appendix 1.
It is important that sweeping change in the U.S. healthcare system take place in a short period of time. This document lays out the changes and transition plans, as well as an ongoing plan for funding and support for a new style of healthcare system, which will result in high-quality affordable healthcare for all Americans.
The problems are legion and well-known: cost shifting from government onto the sick and the infirm; lack of choice for medical expense coverage, leaving either an all-or-nothing plan, or payment out-of-pocket for everything; money squandered providing insurance rather than care; and lack of individual choice of care, provider or payment method.
The opening moves in this renovation of healthcare can only be made by government, which is the sole group with the power to bind itself and others to a process of change.

Therefore, the Congress shall enact, and the president shall sign, a sweeping healthcare reform bill, based on the principles that the U.S. government is bound to protect the interests of all Americans; many Americans have no healthcare and many more have trouble affording it; and it is the duty of Congress to act to cause healthcare to be accessible and affordable to all Americans.
Contained within that legislation will be:
1. A continuation of Medical Savings Account laws, with some important clarifications.
2. Malpractice liability will be capped, limiting liability for all medical professionals and facilities.
3. Reform prescription drug coverage.
4. Reforming government administration of Medicare and Medicaid.
5. Providing incentives to businesses to participate in this new system,
6. Creating national, regional and statewide health planning boards to allocate healthcare resources effectively across the nation.

Proposal: A reformed U.S. healthcare system

This proposal is based on the principles in the Health Care Magna Carta, at and included in Appendix 1.
It is important that sweeping change in the U.S. healthcare system take place in a short period of time. This document lays out the changes and transition plans, as well as an ongoing plan for funding and support for a new style of healthcare system, which will result in high-quality affordable healthcare for all Americans.
The problems are legion and well-known: cost shifting from government onto the sick and the infirm; lack of choice for medical expense coverage, leaving either an all-or-nothing plan, or payment out-of-pocket for everything; money squandered providing insurance rather than care; and lack of individual choice of care, provider or payment method.
The opening moves in this renovation of healthcare can only be made by government, which is the sole group with the power to bind itself and others to a process of change.

Therefore, the Congress shall enact, and the president shall sign, a sweeping healthcare reform bill, based on the principles that the U.S. government is bound to protect the interests of all Americans; many Americans have no healthcare and many more have trouble affording it; and it is the duty of Congress to act to cause healthcare to be accessible and affordable to all Americans.
Contained within that legislation will be:

1. A continuation of Medical Savings Account laws, with some important clarifications. Contributions of after-tax dollars to MSAs will become tax-deductible. Distributions from MSAs will become non-taxable. In keeping with a recent IRS ruling, funds remaining in MSAs at the end of a calendar or fiscal year will be able to be rolled into the following year without tax penalty.
Two incentive programs will be created to encourage people to use MSAs, and to permit them to use their money intelligently.
First, the federal government will pay $1,000 to each American citizen and legal permanent resident each year, into the person’s MSA. If a person does not have an MSA, the money is not paid. This money is intended to provide funds for preventive care and treatment for small routine illnesses that occur throughout the year.
Second, MSAs will be able to be held jointly by, and for the benefit of, immediate family members, such as married people or parents and their dependent children. When joint holders of an MSA no longer wish to hold their funds jointly, they may divide them in any mutually agreeable way, but the money must remain in someone’s MSA. That is, funds cannot be withdrawn from one MSA without being put into another one immediately, much like an IRA rollover.
Rationale: (HCMC 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10) People and employers will be able to contribute amounts they can afford on a regular basis into their MSAs, making money available for later use to pay for medical expenses. The present system requires people and employers to contribute amounts they cannot afford toward the profits of private companies, pulling that money out of the pool available for people to pay for actual medical care. In effect, they pre-pay large sums for the privilege of paying even larger sums when they actually need services. If they do not use medical care in any given year, that money has been spent for no useful purpose.
Revamping this system will permit more money to be used to pay for actual medical services, without putting additional pressure on working people to pre-pay for medical care they may not use. Further, it will allow them to save that money to pay for medical care they actually use in the future.
Funding: Find out how much people and businesses pay in insurance premiums vs. how much they pay for actual healthcare
Impact on healthcare services: Services will remain as accessible as before, but people’s access to them will improve dramatically. Rather than paying expensive premiums for future discounts on services, all of the money spent will go directly to providing healthcare. A family that pays, say $300 a month for insurance today will be able, instead, to visit the physician for preventive checkups from time to time, using that same $300.
Impact on healthcare costs: Costs will not go down or up, but people’s ability to afford the costs will increase. Money for insurance premiums, now taken away from the pool for spending on actual healthcare, will become available again for buying actual care.

2. Malpractice liability will be capped, limiting liability for all medical professionals and facilities. Malpractice liability must remain in existence to protect patients from accidental wrongdoing by medical professionals. However, to protect the public from malicious professionals, malpractice claims resulting from wilful wrongdoing or wilful negligence will have no liability cap.
In cases, however, where the intent of the medical professionals and facilities was to help, and there was no intent to harm, the liability cap will be:
• For a procedure of which the damage can be repaired, the amount of the cap shall calculated by:
-Figuring the amount of any money paid by a patient, government or private company for a procedure or other action that is deemed to be malpractice. Fees for services provided by parties not judged guilty of malpractice shall not be included in the cap.
-Adding the costs of the procedure to repair the damage.
-Adding the patient’s actual lost income and wages while repairs are made.
-Doubling the sum total, to include actual damages plus a penalty.
• For a procedure of which the damage cannot be repaired, the amount of the cap shall be calculated by:
-Figuring the amount of any money paid by a patient, government or private company for a procedure or other action that is deemed to be malpractice. Fees for services provided by parties not judged guilty of malpractice shall not be included in the cap.
-Adding the amount required to perform the procedure properly (e.g., amputate the correct leg).
-Adding the amount required to cover appropriate, medically necessary amelioration of the situation (if the wrong leg has been amputated, for example, add in the cost of prosthetics).
-Doubling the sum total.
-Adding the compensation that would be available under the standard Accidental Death or Dismemberment insurance policy offered by airline carriers at the time of the miscarried procedure.
Rationale: (HCMC 1, 3, 6, 7, 8) This will permit patients who have suffered at the hands of medical professionals to recoup losses and cause the responsible parties to feel some punitive damages. And it will permit medical professionals and facilities to keep a better handle on their insurance premiums, which are one of the factors driving up the cost of healthcare.
Funding: In 2000, doctors paid $6.4 billion in insurance premiums. All of this cost was shifted to patients, insurance companies and government agencies paying for healthcare. Reducing this amount would reduce upward pressure on doctors’ prices. (According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Statistical Compilation of Annual Statement Information for Property/Casualty Insurance Companies in 2000, (2001).)
Impact on healthcare services: Services would be no more or less available than they are today. Some medical professionals might actually begin offering services they had not before because of high insurance costs.
Impact on healthcare costs: A major factor in the high cost of some procedures is the malpractice coverage required for professionals who conduct those procedures. This would reduce some of the cost pressure, resulting in lower costs and increased access to services by all Americans.

3. Reform prescription drug coverage. Prescription drugs may be paid for by money from MSAs. Pharmaceutical companies who refuse to sell their drugs at Medicare-negotiated rates to all purchasers will have their drugs subjected to prior review by Medicare. That requires state or federal approval before a doctor can prescribe a medication. Drugs and companies subjected to this will effectively cut themselves out of the Medicare market.
Drug companies will be prohibited from advertising their products to the general public, whether on television, on radio or in newspapers, magazines or on-line advertisements.
Drug companies will be allowed to have their company web sites describe the drugs they sell, but those pages and descriptions must be approved by the FDA as including full disclosure of results of all clinical studies.
Drug companies will be allowed to advertise their products to doctors, under FDA rules that require full disclosure of the results of all clinical studies and only making FDA-approved claims for treatment or prevention of diseases or conditions.
Drug companies will be prohibited from sponsoring conferences for medical professionals.
Drug companies will be permitted to send marketing personnel to meet with doctors, but may only drop off FDA-approved literature, and may not purchase meals, gifts or other small items (including office supplies) for medical professionals.
Rationale: (HCMC 1, 4, 7, 8) Companies that make revolutionary drugs that they want to make large profits on will remain allowed to do so, but not at the expense of taxpayers and private citizens who want important medical services.
Drug companies today spend more money on marketing than they do on research and development, and take less in corporate profit than they spend on marketing. If marketing budgets were reduced, drug companies would have more money to do research and development of products, and would still be more profitable than they are today.
This ensures doctors would have access to complete information about drugs they might prescribe.
Further, members of the general public would not be subjected to advertisements for things they have no power to actually procure for themselves. Members of the public would also be able to learn more about important drugs, but would have access to the full range of information given to doctors about the drug, rather than just a phone number to call. This limitation on advertising is an extension of the existing FDA rules on drug advertising, but ensures that marketing spending by drug companies is limited, allowing them to focus on their core function to their shareholders and society: making drugs and finding new ones.
Funding: FDA approval costs are covered in application fees for licensing and regulation. FDA fees may increase for drug companies, but no more money will be needed from taxpayers or healthcare consumers.
Impact on healthcare services: Some drug companies may change operations or cease some operations. This could disrupt prescription drug development in the short term, but will provide better access and information in the middle and long terms.
Impact on healthcare costs: There will be decreased upwards pressure on costs of prescription drugs. While they may not drop, drug companies will see public pressure brought to bear on their profiteering. They will still be allowed to charge money for their drugs, and to make a profit, but their role as providers of important public services and needs will be recognized and held to account for the public’s well-being.

4. Reforming government administration of Medicare and Medicaid. Government will pay the full amounts of “accepted reasonable costs” for services provided to Medicare and Medicaid patients.
Rationale: (HCMC 2, 3, 4, 8, 9) The government is now hiding, from the public and from itself, the true cost of treating the elderly and the poor with proper medical care. Those costs are being shifted onto private insurance carriers and people who pay out of their own pocket for medical care, in effect taxing the sick and the injured.
This would require the entire society to pay the true cost of treating the people who need help. It would prevent government from hiding the costs, and would create a built-in incentive system to improve access to preventative care for the poor and the elderly, to cut costs overall while improving the public health.
Funding: According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), in 2002 Medicare paid $256 billion. Medicaid paid $258 billion, to match on a 2-to-1 basis $129 billion from state funds for Medicaid. This represents 80 percent of the total cost of care to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, leaving $161 billion in unpaid Medicare and Medicaid benefits to be covered by people with private insurance. Reducing this burden will lessen upward pressure on medical prices for private payers.
Impact on healthcare services: Services would be no more or less available than they are today.
Impact on healthcare costs: This will appear to make Medicare and Medicaid costs go up. That appearance is false, however, and will merely reflect a readjustment of the cost structure now in place for medical care. Medicare and Medicaid will be charged the full cost of caring for beneficiaries, while private-payers and third-party insurance companies will see cost savings because they will pay only the full cost of caring for their beneficiaries, without also paying for services rendered to other patients.

5. Providing incentives to businesses to participate in this new system, by encouraging them to contribute to MSAs and assist with sponsoring major medical insurance coverage for catastrophic medical needs. Specifically, creating tax exemptions as follows:
-Business contributions to employee/family health insurance plans are only considered tax-deductible business expenditures if the insurance plans have a deductible over more than $4,999 for a single person or $9,999 for more than one person.
-Business contributions of any amount to employee MSAs are tax-deductible business expenses. Contributions may not be made based on discrimination of any kind, but need not be equal in amount for each employee. (That is, employees with families may be eligible for additional MSA funding. Also, employees are free to make arrangements for part of their salaries to be allocated directly to MSAs.)
Further, the law will put a 5 percent payroll tax on all businesses employing two or more people, to cover federal and state healthcare expenditures (This will be less than those businesses would pay in medical premiums under the present system.)
Rationale: (HCMC 2, 4, 5, 6, 9) Businesses are key to this, because of their historic role in providing or helping to provide medical insurance. They also are used to spending money to benefit employees, and are used to getting tax credits for it. Major medical insurance is much closer to a single-pool insurance system, despite the fact that different providers offer it. There is much less demographic variation in who could be hit by a bus or fall off a cliff than with other conditions or illnesses.
Funding: Based on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, total payroll in 2002 was $8.276 trillion. A 5 percent payroll tax would raise $414 billion, more than twice as much as necessary to cover the Medicare/Medicaid shortfall detailed in section 4, leaving plenty left over to fund the remainder of the programs prescribed in this document, especially if future cost savings are incorporated into the healthcare cost system to further offset cost increases.
Impact on healthcare services: Services would be no more or less available than they are today.
Impact on healthcare costs: Healthcare costs would not necessarily change, but people’s ability to afford healthcare certainly would. Today many employers cite cost as the major reason they do not provide any health insurance, or only limited health insurance, to employees. They are locked into an impossible choice: provide a plan that neither company nor worker can afford, or provide nothing at all. With this system, employers would be free to allocate as much as they want to afford towards employee healthcare. Further, the money spent would go to providing actual healthcare, rather than paying in advance for discounts if and when healthcare is provided.

6. Creating national, regional and statewide health planning boards to allocate healthcare resources effectively across the nation. At present, for-profit companies determine where they will build new hospitals or other healthcare facilities. Profit is the motive for locating these important centers of public health and well-being.
Instead, the motive should be intelligent design of services, so that all people will have reasonable access to all levels of care, with quality practitioners providing top-level care in well-maintained facilities not subject to cost-cutting by corporations seeking shareholder revenue.
The boards would plan where new healthcare facilities will be constructed or moved, and what services will be provided at those facilities. They would take into account existing facilities, patient demand and utilization, cost-sharing opportunities of regionalization, and medical importance of immediate access.
Government representatives, medical professionals and community members will collaborate to determine where services shall be provided, such that everyone has access to quality medical care, with more basic and often-used services provided at more locations and specialized high-level services centralized regionally, all spread intelligently across an area of human and physical geography.
Each type of medical service requires a certain level of usage to keep medical professionals skilled and up-to-date. Specialized services, such as open-heart surgery, shall be provided at regional centers, rather than out at primary care centers.
These boards will also become venues for healthcare advocacy, urging people to take better care of themselves and each other.
Rationale: (HCMC 1, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10) Profit is the wrong driving factor for choosing locations of healthcare facilities. Instead, the goal should be to provide services equably to everyone.
Funding: This will pay for itself. Rather than just going out and constructing a hospital or other care facility in one place, a company will have to justify the location and services to regional planners. Competing companies will not be able to build two similar hospitals on the same city street and leave rural areas in the same region without services.
Impact on healthcare services: Specialized services will be somewhat less immediately accessible in some areas, but more accessible in many other areas. Further, the quality of care will be higher, because medical professionals at the centralized specialty facility will have better and more consistent practice to keep their skills fresh.
Impact on healthcare costs: Costs will see downward pressure, because services will be provided more effectively and more efficiently across a region. All people will have relatively easy access to all ranges of healthcare, and all medical professionals will have a workload that neither overwhelms them nor leaves them idle to forget specialized skills.

Appendix 1

Health Care Magna Carta
Copyright July 2002
Kathleen O’Connor

1. We believe we must all participate in health care decisions and that health care is too important to be left to someone else. Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, our health care is too important to be left to the industry and employers.

2. We believe everyone who participates in the health care system should pay for it—individuals, businesses and government. If we all benefit, we all must participate and support it. No one gets services without paying for them, at least in part.

3. We believe all people should have access to a common set of health care services that promote the health and well-being of our nation, including access to preventive services, full maternity and well-child care, childhood immunizations, and full dental and mental health services for children, as well as comprehensive health services for seniors. We believe that this includes culturally sensitive health care services that recognizes the diversity of our nation and that includes complementary and alternative therapies, as well.

4. We believe no person should face bankruptcy because of catastrophic health care costs and needs.

5. We believe in the freedom of employers to offer more than a common set of health care services; but in return, large employers should not oppose the needs of small businesses to offer at least a common set of benefits, so people don’t live in fear of insufficient insurance.

6. We believe we should all be in the same risk pool rather than separate our society into smaller and smaller segments.

7. We believe we all need clear and succinct information about health care services and benefits, and that information about services and benefits should be written for the average reader, not just for lawyers, physicians and government employees.

8. We believe we need central standards and management of health care financing and services, just as we have central standards and management for the banking industry. We need an independent national board, but we also need local flexibility to meet the specific health care needs of our communities. We also need to define care standards for ourselves, our providers and our communities.

9. We believe funds for health care services should not be dictated by the specific health care categories as we now have, so we can be more flexible in meeting the wide range of needs of clients vs. the compartmentalized requirements of each separate system as we now have.

10. We believe we must all assume personal responsibility for our health and help our friends and family members do the same. We encourage individuals, employers and community groups to put their efforts into health promotion and disease prevention and reduction.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Song of ages: Winter Harbor belts out Louie, Louie

Published in the Portland Phoenix

People who are older often describe themselves — or are described by others — as "set in their ways." How do we get that way, though? Playwright Lanford Wilson’s 1970 work Serenading Louie offers an answer with his tale of lost souls.

The title springs from "The Whiffenpoof Song," the song of the men’s a cappella group at Yale — where three of the play’s characters went to college. The song’s lyrics talk of friends gathering at a bar where a man named Louie is a fixture. The friends are "little black sheep who have gone astray," and "Gentleman songsters off on a spree/ Doomed from here to eternity."

These characters, the Whiffenpoofs sing, "will serenade our Louie while life and voice shall last/ Then we’ll pass and be forgotten with the rest."

That is what Alex and Gabby (Chris Holt and Phoenix contributor Caitlin Shetterly) and Carl and Mary (John Linscott and Paula Vincent) see in their own futures. They wrestle against it, remembering their younger years, filled with promise and adventure. "The smallest thing that ever happened was an event" back then, Carl remembers.

And big things that happened unified the country, like the tragedy of Kathy Fiscus, a 3-year-old girl who fell into an abandoned well in 1949. The story of the rescue effort was one of the first ever broadcast live on television, and had people around the globe glued to their radios for nearly 50 hours, Carl recalls. More than just a shared past, though, it is a sign to Carl of how immortality can be earned through tragedy.

Now their lives are stuck. In their early thirties, married, with decent jobs and clear — if conventional — futures ahead of them, they want to reclaim past potential before they enter into historical oblivion.

Gabby, the aptly named, insecure chatterbox (played cleverly by Shetterly, whose tortured facial expressions and simpering advances toward Alex are both deeply human and singularly superficial) drives Alex crazy. Shetterly’s performance is so strong, I wanted to strangle her, as did a man sitting just in front of me in the audience. "I’d kill myself" in Alex’s place, he said during the scene change.

Alex, her husband, is wrenchingly torn between wanting to follow his dreams and wanting to reclaim his past. In the meantime, though, he is forced to endure Gabby’s meandering monologues, which drive him to distraction. Holt conveys this tearing of his spirit very well, fuming visibly but silently, then exploding and contracting again, inside his shell.

Mary and Carl are similarly glued to their spots. Mary, an emotional recluse, lovingly bosses Carl around a lot, and he is deeply depressed. Linscott’s glowering aspect sheds light on his deeper inclinations, and gives the lie to his statement that he is unable to feel any emotions.

They are indeed set in their ways. As much as a result of this as an antidote to it, suspicions of infidelity arise, leading all four to question their positions in life. Carl believes most people can’t handle life in the late 20th century. He argues that self-sacrifice, seen by many as an ancient pagan ritual modern people have moved beyond, is not dead nor gone. Instead, it has changed form.

As the lights rise and fall and the four actors explore the simple, homey living-room set, their anguish also ebbs and flows. Carl first covers his pain at his wife’s infidelity by talking of sweet nothings and remembering the past. Linscott’s gentle dancing around the real subject lasts just long enough to let Vincent’s gentle, secretive Mary slip away.

It is the last time the two connect as friends. The next time will be after the confrontation is over, after Carl’s pain prevents him from even looking at his wife. Tessy Seward, here in her first directing effort — and having replaced original director Mel Howards over "artistic differences" — has a clear vision for where these characters are heading.

Mary views her love as a self-sacrifice. Not only has she gone willingly to the altar to begin the ritual, but she finds the blissful rapture of love only seconds before it is too late.

When Gabby learns of Alex’s indiscretion, Shetterly transforms from a weak, vacillating girl into a woman in full roar. She demands a response from Holt, who stays well within his character’s reserved façade, but worries more about others than himself.

These couples are indeed "on the eve of destruction," as suggested by the song playing before the show begins. And though destruction can also bring rebirth, that will not happen on this stage. Their passing remains inevitable. All that Carl changes with his gun is the length of time society will take to forget.

Serenading Louie
Written by Lanford Wilson. Directed by Tessy Seward. With Chris Holt, John Linscott, Caitlin Shetterly, and Paula Vincent. Produced by Winter Harbor Theatre Company at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, Portland, through June 5. Call (207) 775-3174.


Mike Levine reports that a search for shared rehearsal, classroom, and performance space is moving along, and is likely to find a home in South Portland, where the city government is apparently willing to work with the group to promote the arts.

• Twenty-two high-school-aged actors at The Theater Project are inviting the public to see the world through their eyes. They have written and produced, and will perform, Voices in the Mirror, from Friday, June 4, through Sunday, June 6.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Laugh lines: Standing up for a thousand bucks

Published in the Portland Phoenix

It’s fitting, really, that a postal worker who mocked her own profession’s tendency to go ballistic was the one best able to get a rise out of the audience at the Comedy Connection last week.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. It was the final round of the Portland’s Funniest Professional competition, with six top laugh-getters vying for " fame, fortune, and one thousand dollars. " For a shot at one-fiftieth the dough you can get for eating cow innards on Fear Factor, these folks got up and did what strikes true fear into many people’s hearts: Talking in public, and trying to make people laugh.

The " host " for the evening was local funnyman Shane Kinney, whose warm-up banter involved personally insulting members of the audience. It made me wish he would take on the woman three to my left, who insisted on talking the whole night.

Amy — her friends told me her name — is a blond fortysomething surgical nurse who seemed to think she was on the stage. Not so, though her droning drunken monologue and four — count ’em — cell-phone conversations during the show made her the focus of attention for many in the back of the room. (And netted nearby paying customers apologies and gift certificates from the management.)

Amy, needless to say, did not win the competition.

Neither did Scott Davis, the first real competitor, who seemed to follow in the Kinney mold. Beyond laughing at his own corny jokes and sort-of-gross, but not-quite-dirty interjections, his best line was to describe rap music as " sneakers in the clothes dryer. " His audience — mostly white folks who appeared not to be rap fans — ate that one up. Amy, nonplussed, yammered on.

Next up was Tim Hofmann, who had a shot at winning, if only he weren’t so awkward on the stage. Clad in startlingly clashing clothes, he delivered funny laugh lines and showed deep, if offbeat, thought into the ways of the world. (An example: He told the crowd he tries to eat based on the FDA’s Food Guide Pyramid. He had a question: " How many mummies am I supposed to eat? " )

He also suggested a revolutionary diet that had the crowd in stitches and even momentarily drowned out Amy’s nonstop blather. It was the Tapeworm Diet. Simple in its application, and easy to adopt: Eat what you want. " With tapeworms, you’ll shit rivers. " No reaction from Amy.

Next up was Sheila Jackson, who went straight to work targeting her postal co-workers. Fortunately, it was with jokes about guns and not actual guns. Here is a woman who knows what she’s talking about and — forget poking fun — is not afraid to ram fun down people’s throats.

She had great presence and a wonderful " I’ll tell you the inside scoop " rapport with the audience, and everything she told us confirmed our worst fears about mail employees. A former postal worker walks into a post office with two pistols and 34 rounds of ammunition. The death toll? Two. " That’s what we call an underachiever, " she said, as the building nearly fell down around itself and Amy continued to discuss — something vital.

Jackson, who had a sizeable cheering section, far outshone last year’s champ, Mark Mathewson, a guy from New Hampshire whose " intermission " routine was slow and based on clichéd admissions of his shortcomings with women.

The first competitor in the second half of the show was either Ann Harvey or Ian Harvey — I’m still not sure. This strangely androgynous being played off the gender-swapping thing, making people laugh with discomfort when she said she was " the youngest of three brothers. " Amy was momentarily silenced, stunned or confused, it’s hard to say.

Next up was Tuck, a teacher who talked about chaperoning dances and violent games. " Remember Jarts? " he asked. " Now there’s a violent game. " He reached a wide group with his everyman humor, showing new twists on things we could all relate to, and won second place for his efforts.

He got big guffaws by taking on the old favorite, drug commercials. But he did his homework. Some legal prescription drugs have been found to cause renal failure as a " side effect, " he announced. Pot remains illegal. You choose, he said: " A taco and a nap, or renal failure? " Amy roared with laughter and clapping at this one. It made me wonder what those nurses are really smoking as they stand outside the hospital doors.

The last of the competitors was Karen Morgan, who had just a few days before graduated from the 11-week stand-up comedian class at the Comedy Connection. She’s a stay-at-home mom of three kids, aged 5, 3, and 2. A lot of her work was based on that, and while baby humor may seem bland, it was nothing of the sort.

Her biggest line came at the end of a story in which she related her role as arbiter of an incident in which her daughter, 3, played " doctor " and lightly bit the penis (which in their house, for reasons unexplained, they call a " tally " ) of the 2-year-old boy. Her final ruling, after a hilarious account of her own thought process on the subject: " We do not bite other people on the tally. " Her twist on potty humor was that it was inspired by people who actually still use potties. Amy, though, didn’t seem to notice. She had another phone call to make.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Swimming in ecstasy: Women and the Sea a trophy catch

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Free at last. This is how some women feel when they encounter the sea. And this is how audiences should feel when they encounter Women and the Sea. Anita Stewart and Portland Stage Company have done something important here.

Stewart, with playwright Shelley Berc, interviewed dozens of Maine women in their research for this show. These stories — of 17 women and two girls — are not just of women and girls, however, but of a community of fishermen (both male and female), their friends, and their families.

It is this play, filled with joy and heartbreak, wonder and worry, which Portland Stage should use as a model for its future endeavors. Why dilly dally around with the safe comedies and fan-favorites when it can produce something as truly special as Women and the Sea.

While many of PSC’s recent shows have lacked excitement and passion, Women and the Sea has that special something. It’s a new work, directed by one of its creators (Stewart), with all the color and energy newness can bring to a piece. There are no audience or actor preconceptions, no way "it’s always been done."

From its beginning, with silhouettes speaking from amid the waves, to the dockside tales and dual climaxes, this play has what PSC needs to find for all its shows.

In the creation of this work, figure not just Stewart, whose clear vision for the performance comes through powerfully, and Berc, whose writing skills keep what is essentially an action-less drama moving. The six actors on stage each night imbue their characters with real and palpable life. Each of the 19 characters — actors plays at least two, with three playing four people — is fascinating in her own way, and has her voice clearly heard.

Some of them — like aquaculture scientist Evelyn (Amy Staats) — are hilarious and well played, with nerdy dramatic pauses where the audience is meant to fill in the space with pithy remarks, but can find only laughter. Others, like Carol (Nicola Sheara) the Irish clam-digger, are hilarious but serve to remind us how many people find their calling in life only by accident. And still others, like Shirley (Moira Driscoll), are understated and reserved, but magical all the same.

The passions of life bubble from each of them, churning the emotional sea into a raging storm that calms into a placid lake before again getting rocky.

This is not a play about women, though it is through their eyes that we learn of the sea and the fishing life. Linda Greenlaw (Brigitte Viellieu-Davis) reminds us women who go out to sea in boats also prefer to be called "fishermen." The struggles of the seafaring life, and of their families back on land, are the same whether the captain is a man or a woman.

Fishing policy problems, government incompetence, bad luck, abusive relationships, and poor judgment are explored as fully and fairly as the triumphs and pleasures of working on or near the sea. Tears flow as freely as laughter, at the humanity of tragedy and of silly ignorance. It is as much a story of endurance as it is a requiem for times gone by. Fishing, these women confess angrily, is on its last legs in Maine, in part thanks to the governmental regulations that try to sustain it.

The closeness of the community is also made apparent, in the choice of several women who all know each other, and can therefore tell parts of each other’s stories. While the aftermath of the Julie N spill introduces this approach, it is taken full advantage of in the retelling of the loss of the Two Friends, which sank off Cape Neddick in January 2000.

This is where the threads begin to come together. In the first act, the line was reeled out, as the women told their own tales and began to relate to each other. (On the stage the group forms a mini-audience for each speaker.)

In the second act, especially as the Two Friends is caught at sea in a storm, Yuberquis (Viellieu-Davis) begins, but breaks down, still consumed by grief. Into the breach step her friends, Susan (Molly Powell) and Debbie (Sheara), to take up the story. With almost no props, no boat, and no visual image to go on but those in their heads, they paint a terrifying portrait of the last night two men ever spent on the water, and of the women on the shore.

Women and the Sea
Written by Shelley Berc and Anita Stewart. Directed by Anita Stewart. With Nora Daly, Moira Driscoll, Molly Powell, Amy Staats, Rebecca Stevens, Nicola Sheara, and Brigitte Viellieu-Davis. At Portland Stage Company, through May 23. Call (207) 774-0465.


The Center Stage Players, a theater company for older adults, will give an informal "chamber theater" performance of Different Paths, a new one-act by Edith Hazard of Topsham. The performance, a follow-up to a staged reading of the play, will be on Saturday, May 22, at 1 p.m., at the 55 Plus Center, in Brunswick. Admission is by donation. For reservations and further information, call (207) 729-0757.

• Concord, New Hampshire, playwright Doug Dolcino’s play Monument was given a reading by Generic Theater regulars Betsy Kimball, Helen Brock, Nancy Pearson, Alan Huisman, Steve Erickson, and Bruce Allen on Tuesday. The play is a broad-ranging spectacle about the possible future, including a civil engineer who redesigns civilization, an Orwellian postal inspector, and a wide spectrum of possible influences.

Friday, May 7, 2004

Hearts and minds: It's also a fight for bodies, and homes, and memories

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Bosnia is a forgotten place now. With Afghanistan — remember that one? — and Iraq eating up the headlines, it’s easy to forget — or never find out — that they’re still finding mass graves in Bosnia, still prosecuting war criminals, still sending US troops to keep the peace.

Feminist playwright Eve Ensler (who wrote The Vagina Monologues) has not forgotten. In the early 1990s, she went to Bosnia, seeking out the stories of women who had been cruelly treated in the sectarian fighting among the Muslims, Serbs, and Croats there.

Necessary Targets is one of the results of the interviews she conducted. It is a riskier play than many established Maine theaters might put on, but the Theater Project isn’t asking people to pony up 30 bucks a seat, which forces theaters to play it safe to avoid a box-office disaster. No, the Theater Project’s artistic wings have been freed by its pay-what-you-can ticket policy for every seat at every show.

The theater suggests donating $15 for a ticket, but they’ll take a penny if that’s what you’ve got. Artistic director Al Miller says the dollar income at the box office is about the same as before the policy began in January, and audience numbers are up.

The crowds still pack in for big shows, but more people come to risky shows than would if prices were higher. Most people who are new to the theater pay about $5, says producer Frank Wicks. Long-time fans often pay $15 or more.

Those who make it to Necessary Targets will find one of the richest, best-acted shows to appear on Maine stages in a year. It’s a pity the play itself is so choppy, because the acting is inspired and the stories riveting.

The plot serves as a vehicle to get Ensler’s experience on the table. A psychiatrist (J.S., played by Kathleen Kimball) who has never left the US, and a war-zone-junkie trauma counselor (Melissa, played by Heather Perry Weafer) head to Bosnia together, to help women deal with their experiences, which included gang rape among other, more unspeakable abuses.

The five women whom they encounter in a Bosnian refugee camp are a broad spectrum of the women Ensler must have met. There is Azra (Tootie Van Reenen), an old woman angry about the wasteful slaughter of her cows and goats; Jelena (Wendy Poole), a tough-as-nails Rizzo-type; Nuna (Reba Short), a gleefully America-crazy young woman; Zlata (Michele Livermore Wigton), a pediatrician who is both war-weary and suspicious of foreigners coming to " help " ; and Seada (Elizabeth Chambers), a young mother from the country.

One by one, the women begin to tell their stories, from the heartbreaking simplicity of Azra’s ouster from her home, to Seada’s graphic tale of being chased from her home and suffering abuses whose details had me nearly ready to vomit in the aisle.

The thoughtful one turns out to be combative Zlata, who comes to a deeper understanding with J.S., while still keeping her contempt for Melissa’s " parachute " style.

These stories demand our attention, our suffering. As Seada says from the depth of her grief, " Hurt. " And hurt we do. It’s crushing to hear what humans are capable of, and simple to think of how we might become that way. As Zlata asks, " What would drive you to violence? "

More often than not, it’s little things, piled on top of each other, that send people over the edge. It could indeed happen here. We are not more superior, more tolerant, or otherwise better. We are, perhaps, just luckier.

The staging is deceptively complex. It looks like a basic refugee camp, but becomes a river, a tent, a bluff overlooking a view, a grave, and a dark forest of terror.

Yet the choppy structure speaks of too much to say with too little organization, and the heavy ending falls into the same trap as many activist plays: It states outright, over and over, the point of the play, without giving credit to the brains and hearts of the audience.

Necessary Targets
Written by Eve Ensler. Directed by Christopher Price. With Kathleen Kimball, Heather Perry Weafer, Tootie Van Reenen, Michele Livermore Wigton, Reba Short, Elizabeth Chambers, and Wendy Poole. At the Theater Project, Brunswick, through May 16. Call (207) 729-8584.


• It’s festival time! First up is the Little Festival of the Unexpected, when Portland Stage Company showcases the top three New England plays from the annual Clauder competition. It can be a great way to see shows that would otherwise rarely make it to PSC. This year’s festival starts May 11 and runs through May 15, with staged readings of Clauder winner Yemaya’s Belly (a Caribbean coming-of-age tale) by Quiara Alegria Hudes, and runners-up Remuda (a dark comedy) by William Donnelly and Wonderland (a satire of celebrity) by David Valdes Greenwood, a contributor to the Boston Phoenix.

• Then the Maine Playwrights’ Lab (formerly Amma Studio) will have a pair of new-play readings at the Stillhouse Studio, above the Katahdin restaurant on High Street. Admission is $5. At 7 p.m. May 16, the piece will be John Manderino’s play Stools, Benches, Ladders & Chairs, a series of short pieces. At 7 p.m. May 23 will be I Remember You by Phoebe Reeves, a personal family drama.

• And between June 8 and June 12, Acorn Productions will put on The Cassandra Project, a festival of female performing artists including 14 shows. All will be held at Portland Stage Company, either on the main stage or in the studio theater.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Behind the wire: Theater classes at Long Creek Youth Development Center

Published in the Portland Phoenix

It’s a Monday afternoon as I walk to the desk at the euphemistically named Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland. I surrender my wallet, keys, sunglasses, datebook, and jacket. I have a form that allows me to carry my notebook and pens through the locked doors, into where the children are held.

I’ve come to visit a class run by the Winter Harbor Theater Company, in an eight-week session of theater classes for 12 teens who have been locked up here.

Caitlin Shetterly (who writes "Bramhall Square" for the Phoenix) and Tessy Seward, Winter Harbor’s co-founders, along with technical director Chris Fitze, and local actors Chris Holt and Paul Drinan, arrive just behind me.

As the kids arrive in the classroom, there’s a barely contained tension. The kids are bouncing off the walls, and the teachers are uncertain what will happen that day.

First comes a bit of yoga. We stretch and move together, focusing their energy and helping them learn what their bodies and voices can do.

After a few minutes, it’s time for scene practice. Seward, Shetterly, and the others have chosen four contemporary plays to work from, selecting them and the scenes within them to be applicable and attractive to these kids.

"A lot of them have substance-abuse themes," Seward says. Most have characters between the ages of 16 and 20, a good fit for this group of kids, aged 15 to 19, from all over the state.

The center’s staff asked nothing be performed that glorified or romanticized violence, but they allowed plays in which "it’s clear that these behaviors are problems" for the characters, as Seward says.

The kids get "a chance to play a character that they might be able to relate to." It’s their first foray into theater, and given the embarrassment and playful shyness they exhibit during the warm-up session, the kids could use a little familiarity.

One student, whom I’ll call Keith, announces that he has written a short scene during lockdown. Rather than work on the scene he was assigned, he and his scene partner, "Jim," explore Keith’s own work.

It was inspired by an experience in his own life, attending the funeral of a friend who was stabbed to death in a fight. The minute-long scene offers glimpses into Keith’s life and our society.

Keith and Jim play young men at the funeral, talking over the body, asking what the death was for — why their friend sought out the fight. They mourn the loss, empathize for the mother of the dead man, and invoke the feelings of honor and camaraderie that bind young people together. They laugh that if only the fight hadn’t happened, the three of them would be hanging out with "half-naked women, drinking forties."

This is a playwright who has found his voice. Keith acts and directs, exploring his feelings and explaining them to Jim in the process.

At the end of the eight-week class, the students perform for their fellow inmates, as well as parents, guards, and a few visitors. One student is in the infirmary, and can’t be there. His scene partner bows out as well, instead being the stage manager and hamming it up between scenes, as if to show his parents he did participate.

The show, under a basketball net in the Long Creek gym, is a moving hour of amateur theater. Kids who have been told to go away from society explore their feelings of hurt, rebellion, and anger safely, with no parents or guards in their faces and no peers jeering.

The performance is a tribute to the power of human faith, and the strength of theater. In heartbreakingly expressive voices, these kids — many of whom speak too fast and too quietly, most of whom read their lines rather than delivering from memory — open their hearts through the words of others.

Keith plays a dead-on Vietnam vet with an alcohol problem. An expressive kid who knows the hard side of the world, he describes hitting a girl until she stops moving. It is a riveting portrayal, no doubt made deeper by Keith’s own life experience.

One set of scene partners and a solo actor have scrapped the original, modern scripts they were to have performed, choosing instead to bring Shakespeare to life in this lockdown.

"D.J.," one of the shyer kids most of the time, delivers the chilling gallows speech of Aaron, a Goth prisoner in Titus Andronicus.

He is nervous as he approaches the seats, directing his words and his venom at individuals in the audience, but he pulls off a powerful and heartfelt delivery that earns him props from his friends at the end.

Later, D.J. and "Anne," also one of the quieter of the group, have memorized their scene. At one point, distracted by his buddies, D.J. loses his line entirely. It’s clear from his face that it’s gone. Not giving up this time, he fights — the effort is visible — to reclaim it, and does so, finishing the scene with a large grin of pride.

"Evan" and "Carol" do a scene together, in which both appear shy but impassioned. They, too, have promise in the theater.

Jim and Keith are together in the next scene, in which they again explore the consequences of youthful misdeeds. This time it is a part of The Outsiders, in which two young men seek refuge from fate. Keith delivers a strong performance here as well, struggling for but managing to recite Robert Frost’s poem Nothing Gold Can Stay and holding the crumbling character together by force of will.

It is a wonderful thing that Keith and "Wyatt" return in the final scene, as Benvolio and Romeo, from Romeo and Juliet. While their voices are a bit too quiet for the gym, Wyatt demonstrates a mastery of the language that few actors achieve so early in their careers.

Shetterly and Seward are now raising money for a second effort to throw a theatrical lifeline to kids behind the wire.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Folding, not breaking: Kabuki shows the strength of a paper crane

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Take a seat. Sit mute, without moving. Watch. Listen. Feel. Sights, sounds, feelings, thoughts.

Lights brighten as a girl steps forward from a delicately painted set full of robust colors. They are hues of life, of unbridled energy, of unconquerable power. Youthful vigor and atomic fury collide on the walls.

The girl begins to run, already racing towards a future of untold promise, and trying to elude a past that is close behind her and catching up. She is Sadako Sasaki (Michele Lee), now 12, who was a two-year-old girl when, on August 6, 1945, the US dropped "Little Boy" on Hiroshima, Japan.

In a 40-minute performance heavily influenced by the Japanese kabuki style of theater, Sadako’s story is retold at the Children’s Theatre of Maine.

Kabuki plays often deal with the conflict between humanity and a larger system or social structure, such as a wartime government’s impossible choice between the death of millions or merely hundreds of thousands.

This play combines the two main types of kabuki plays, historical dramas and stories about normal people. It includes ritualized gestures and line-delivery that is more singing or chanting than speaking.

There are also amazing masks with bright colors and strong designs, which clarify character elements in this three-actor, multiple-character show. At the same time, the masks slightly obscure speech — not enough to matter, but enough to anonymize the speakers, as when masked doctors report on Sadako’s condition.

Nancy Brown and Richard Gammon play the roles of doctors, parents, and friends, as well as Sadako’s grandmother, felled instantly when the bomb struck. Brown’s presence on stage — and Lee’s — is a significant departure from kabuki’s no-women-actors tradition, but the adaptation is more than appropriate. While the break from tradition would raise eyebrows in Japan, in the US, having men play the female roles would be worse than distracting.

Brown and Gammon work well together, often separated by an entire stage and not even looking at each other, but moving and speaking together and in counterpoint. Their movements and lines are precisely delivered, with just enough passion to have meaning without losing the strict composure and reserved aspect possessed by many Japanese people.

Even Sadako’s lament, when she is struck down by "the atom bomb disease," leukemia, is subdued.

"I don’t have any scars from the bomb. It didn’t touch me," she cries, not understanding that the bomb’s real blast was invisible. It was not just a bomb that leveled her house, killed her grandmother, and seared her neighbors’ shadows on the walls.

As the dead of Hiroshima later tell her in a vision, "The bomb continues to fall, Sadako. It is falling even now."

Youthful innocence attempts to triumph in this tragedy. Sadako’s friend Kenji (Gammon) arrives with a legend and a message of hope: A person who folds a 1000 paper cranes will have her wish granted by the gods.

Sadako wishes for her grandmother to live, for herself to be well, and for no bomb like that ever to happen again. (She forgets it already did, three days after the bomb came to her hometown.)

As Kenji demonstrates folding the crane, he is turned away from the audience — and toward Sadako. It means we can’t see the nimble fingers and intricate movements that for nearly two full minutes are the only action on the stage. Turning slightly toward those watching would show the skill required in executing a flawless crane under stage lights and dozens of watching eyes.

It is with the crane-folding that the play differs from the story told by the World Peace Project for Children, the real-world organization inspired by Sadako’s story. The play says Sadako did not manage to fold 1000 cranes before she died in 1955, at age 12. The Peace Project says she folded more than that number.

The disparity is important. Either she did not manage to appease the gods in time, as the play suggests, or the gods chose which wish to grant — and it wasn’t her grandmother’s resurrection or Sadako’s own survival. Whichever is the case, the story is an inspiring one, simply and powerfully told.

It ends with the description of a statue of Sadako erected in 1958 by Japanese children in the Hiroshima Peace Park. In her outstretched arm she holds an origami crane. On the base is inscribed, "This is our cry, this is our prayer — Peace in the world."

A replica of that statue in the Seattle Peace Park was vandalized in December. The arm holding the crane was chopped off.

A Thousand Cranes
Written by Kathryn Shultz Miller. Directed by Pamela DiPasquale. With Michele Lee, Richard Gammon, and Nancy Brown. At Children’s Theatre of Maine, through April 18. Call (207) 828-0617.


• Correction: After a review in the Phoenix, director Michael Howard did not attend the following performance of Macbeth by the Stage at Spring Point last summer. It was not a rehearsal he missed. Backstage apologizes for the error.

• Starting April 23, Pontine Theatre in Portsmouth will be performing an original production inspired by and based on the New Hampshire ties of e.e. cummings. Pontine artistic directors Greg Gathers and M. Marguerite Mathews created and will perform the show, called Silver Lake Summers: an e.e. cummings revue. Cummings spent many summers, as a boy and as an adult, in the Sandwich Range of the White Mountains. Call (603) 436-6660 or check "Listings" for details.

Friday, April 9, 2004

What price loyalty? Mixing business and friendship

Published in the Portland Phoenix

In an intricately detailed junk shop on Portland Stage Company’s main stage, a battle of loyalties rages. David Mamet’s American Buffalo juxtaposes loyalty to friends with business relationships, showing with what force divergent points of view can collide.

Don (Dwight Bacquie) is a fatherly type for whom giving is important. He would give, for instance, a risky robbery assignment to a friend, Bobby (Gregory Russell Cook), even though Bobby is pleasantly clueless and seems likely to botch the job.

Teach (Don Harvey) also likes giving, but from the other side of the transaction. He demands that his friends give him whatever he wants — whether it’s a slice of toast or the task of breaking and entering.

"Business" for both is a secondary matter, one less personal and less infused with the demands of interpersonal relationships.

The two mix, though, when Don asks Bobby to help with a task Teach considers "business" — stealing back a buffalo nickel bought from the shop. Don figures it’s worth well more than the $90 that was cheerily paid for it, and assumes he needs it more than the purchaser does.

Teach argues he should do the deed because he’ll get it done and Bobby likely won’t. He browbeats Don into changing his mind, swapping business for friendship, and cutting Bobby from the deal.

Teach’s raging-animal is well handled by Harvey, who last appeared at PSC as a similarly disaffected man in Sam Shepard’s True West. Teach’s wildness becomes evident when he fears he is being cheated (by a friend) on the (business) deal. He berates Don and abuses Bobby, even while ignoring signs that there may no longer be a need to steal the nickel.

Then Donny’s wrath surfaces, emphasizing friendship, defending Bobby from Teach’s assault. Bobby and Teach then swap roles to a degree, with Bobby suddenly worldly wise, and Teach cowed into boyish submission.

As is usually the case with Portland Stage, the set is beautiful and the costumes are well done. (Though how PSC managed to convince Bacquie to shave his head into male-pattern baldness is beyond me . . .)

The direction includes elements of slapstick humor and other comic devices to keep the show moving, and to prevent it from being overly heavy. It is Mamet, after all, and Mamet’s language, which some have compared to Shakespeare in its complexity and cadence, is primarily a means of conveying feeling, and of preventing the action from being mime. The words wash over the listener, who need only absorb feelings to follow the meaning. The words themselves bring extra layers, and clues to recurring themes, including oblique references to nickels from time to time.

The blocking carries much of the passion of the story, and all three actors use the physical space very well, alternately occupying the center and fading to the edges. Their individual movements — how they use the space — add depth to their characters and understanding for the audience.

The real conflict, though, is in every house seat, as viewers weigh what they might do in the place of each character, each a very real, very human face.

American Buffalo
Written by David Mamet. Directed by Tony Giordano. With Dwight Bacquie, Gregory Russell Cook, and Don Harvey. At Portland Stage Company, through April 18. Call (207) 774-0465.


Add Verb Productions Arts & Education is seeking a high school student to join the board of directors. AVP’s mission is to bring about awareness, dialogue, and social change using theater. While AVP currently tours two programs around the country addressing eating disorders and dating abuse/sexual assault, additional new programming is in the works. This is an exciting opportunity for a student to be a part of a growing organization that has a statewide and national presence. For more information, contact AVP board secretary Tavia Gilbert at or

• Newburyport, Massachusetts, playwright David Mauriello has reworked A Passage of Time, produced at the Players Ring in 1995. Generic Theater will give the new version a staged reading at the Rice Public Library in Kittery at 7 p.m., April 13. The story follows two men whose relationship is tested when the family of one of the men comes to live with them.

• British playwright Marcus Lloyd will be at the Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor April 24 and 25 for the opening weekend of his play Dead Certain. It is the New England premiere of the play, a two-person thriller that opened at the Theatre Royal in Windsor, England, in 1999. Lloyd has been working with director Mark Torres via email during rehearsals. Penobscot Theatre will hold a special reception in Lloyd’s honor and have audience discussions with him as well. For more information, call the box office at (207) 942-3333 or visit

Friday, April 2, 2004

Think, wait, fast: Siddhartha comes to Portland Players

Published in the Portland Phoenix

In Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, the man who will become the Buddha searches high and low for meaning and understanding in his world. Along the way, he sees many things and learns three powerful lessons about himself: "I can think, I can wait, and I can fast."

In my own travels, these principles have often proved fruitful, as has a corollary from The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife: "I can hold it."

Marjorie (Irene E. Lemay) is the frustrated intellectual wife of an allergist. She and her husband live down the hall from her mother in a New York apartment building. For Marjorie, everything is trifling, including herself. Perhaps she is right: She has written a book "heavily influenced by Thomas Pynchon" and punctuated with a system of her own devising. This, of course, she considers her most worthwhile accomplishment. Her sense of self-pity is bolstered by her failure to understand Waiting for Godot.

She has a passion for German literature, and repeatedly invokes the inspiring story of Siddhartha as she journeys through life herself, though largely without looking away from the pavement.

Her life is much like the play itself. She begins with insignificance; passes through confusion, introspection, and obscure literary references; and ventures into an uninspiring political moment. Then returns to insignificance.

The acting is strong, for the most part. The oddest thing is that doorman Mohammed (Keith Brown) is supposedly from Iraq but has an accent modeled on that of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, owner of the Springfield Kwik-E-Mart.

Lemay is herself strong as a tormented rich woman at loose ends because she need not work and is exhausted from 30 years of volunteering. Clay Graybeal is mincing and barely present as her husband, but that’s how the character is written, so he does well. Anne Sibley O’Brien (as Lee) swans around the stage like the diva her character is.

It is Betty Longbottom (as Frieda, Marjorie’s mother) who steals the show, though, with the most laugh lines. Sadly, nearly all of them involved gratuitous profanity that was only funny because it was said with a straight face by an old Jewish grandmother-type.

Indeed, playwright Charles Busch has Marjorie lament the "dumbing down" of culture to "the lowest common denominator," and then has an old woman say "fuck" over and over again, predictably drawing huge guffaws from the audience.

To be fair, Longbottom also did very well with her bitter aspect and the detailed descriptions of her intestinal function. She also had a wonderful lament for what apparently used to be her "beautiful BMs." Again, though, we see a denominator not far above the floor.

Much of the plot is very funny, with good writing, interesting twists, and great acting. Even weird plot developments — is one of the characters really there? and if so, how can there be a menage-a-trois about to happen? — are handled well by the cast and director Michael Rafkin.

And yet, by the final scene, Busch has lost focus, leaving director, actors, and audience at sea. It is as if Busch noticed that his play was getting close to an end, and hadn’t yet Said Anything Important. Frustrated with his inability to maneuver complex literary allusions and purely comic plot lines into a Message For The People, Busch gave up.

He starts by dropping "fucks" all over the dialogue, drawing more and more laughs with less and less meaning. Then he launches Ira and Marjorie into an indictment of Lee that gives a current-events tie-in, a clue about why Portland Players chose this script when others might have been more entertaining, and more satisfying.

They call her a terrorist. Over and over and over, they call her a terrorist, of the soul, of the heart.

Suddenly, a pleasant, fun evening of light theater turns into a clichéd, poorly argued piece of political theater. It is a stunning piece of theater bait-and-switch.

What’s worse, it drags on and on, as Busch gets his characters around to their points — lacking all of the wit and mental cleverness that made the first six scenes fun and interesting. And then the play just stops, leaving a sense of relief that the ordeal is over. The audience wants no more.

The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife
Written by Charles Busch. Directed by Michael Rafkin. With Irene E. Lemay, Keith Brown, Clay Graybeal, Betty Longbottom, and Anne Sibley O’Brien. At Portland Players, through April 4. Call (207) 799-7337.


Prospective cast members beware. "Backstage" is officially stunned: Michael Howard, who didn’t show up to rehearsal after the Phoenix panned Macbeth last summer, didn’t get fired. He will be back directing for the Stage at Spring Point, which will have 12 performances of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in July. No word yet on whether Stage executive director Seth Rigoletti will attempt to star again.

• Sunday nights from 9 p.m. to midnight, hit rtsp:/./ to listen to Theatre Trash with Braden Chapman, originating from New York and including news, gossip, reviews, interviews, and more.

The Escapists are arriving at Casco Bay Books with a sizzling 20-minute show, including short plays, pop songs, comedic improvisations, and one aria. Performers Chris Fitze, Ryan Gartley, Christine St. Pierre, and Shelia Jackson, with writers Jason Wilkins and Jamalieh Haley, and director R.J. McComish, will be there on Friday evening, April 2, with three shows: at 7:30, 8:30 and 10 p.m. Admission is free.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Feeding the hungry: Theatergoers find tough love

Published in the Portland Phoenix

"Orphans are always hungry," says grown-up orphan Harold (Mike Genovese) in Orphans, at the Public Theatre in Lewiston. They’re not just starving for food — though on a diet consisting solely of tuna fish they can’t be well-nourished — but also for love, guidance, help, and attention.

Philip (Righteous Jolly — can that be his real name?) and Treat (Evan Mueller) are grown orphan brothers who have managed to evade capture by social-services agents and somehow still appear to pay rent on a two-story apartment in north Philadelphia.

They have a Lost Boys-type life, playing and cavorting in their pleasantly disarranged home. Mueller is excellent as the subtly menacing Treat, providing for and caring for his brother and yet keeping him subservient, illiterate, and afraid to go outdoors.

Jolly is, well, jolly in his innocent portrayal of Philip, a mentally underdeveloped boy who learns to dream by watching TV. He is manically silly and has a great time with little-kid toys and big-boy strength, racing and crashing around the living room, handling dinosaurs that attack rubber balls and then slam-dunking them into a wastebasket atop a cabinet. Jolly also renders well Philip’s meeker side, complete with fake bravado, and needy I-want-you-to-love-me tenderness.

One night after a bender, Treat brings home an older businessman, Harold, who has apparently come willingly, though his briefcase carries his worldly treasures. Genovese is a great drunk, blustering around the place alternately comforting Philip with a tough-love approach the boy thrives on and calling Treat’s bluffs with a disciplinarian attitude.

Playwright Lyle Kessler’s characters are fascinatingly complex, combining elements of various archetypes into very realistic people on stage. There are elements of the Lord of the Flies, as well as Bloom County, The Wizard of Oz, and Mrs. Doubtfire.

Philip is a curious-but-scared boy whose personality is best suited by the color pale yellow, he and Harold decide. He needs protection from someone, and his courage is only borrowed.

Treat mirrors what he sees, whether it’s passive aggression, outright opposition, or affection. He has an attitude, which barely contains his rage against a world he can’t control. New ideas are dangerous, and Harold can impose order on nearly any amount of chaos, it appears, whether it’s a kitchen full of food, a bus, or an apartment inhabited by kids who have never really had a parent.

Harold is more, though. He’s on the run from unnamed "enemies" from Chicago, and has drunkenly stumbled — literally — onto an easy safe house in Philadelphia. He pays the boys "salaries" to "work for" him, and runs a tight ship.

His main difference from the other adults the boys have dealt with is that Harold’s raised hand signals loving encouragement, not a threat.

It is an engaging play, working the audience’s brain as much as its heart, and never offering a simple solution, except perhaps that love and luck play together to make life interesting and exciting.

Director Christopher Schario has found the moments in this play that keep it moving, and has worked them all very well, empowering Philip with a passionate speech declaring his independence just moments after a riotous lesson in social norms and how to deal with people who take up too much room on the bus.

The experience is fraught with questions, and more arise after the show ends. They’re not just plot-level musings about the characters’ uncertain futures. Instead, the larger questions loom. What happens to orphans in our society, which is short of foster homes? Who cares for the kids who manage to escape the system? And how do people without parents handle losing the only parental figures they know?

Written by Lyle Kessler. Directed by Christopher Schario. With Mike Genovese, Evan Mueller, and Righteous Jolly. At the Public Theatre, through March 28. Call (207) 782-3200.


• Meetings, Part 1: Artists’ Collaborative Theatre Of New England (ACT ONE) will host an informal gathering in the meeting room at the Lane Library in Hampton, NH, on Wednesday, March 31, from 7 to 8 p.m. The theater’s organizers want to know what the wider community wants from its theater elements. They’re also taking email suggestions at

• Meetings, Part 2: Mike Levine is the "point man" for a group forming to develop a shared rehearsal/office/small performance space for individual artists and small performing groups. Levine is inviting interested people to join him at 10 Mayo Street, Portland (A Company of Girls’ space), on Wednesday, March 31, from 6 to 8 p.m. He’s also taking email inquiries at

• If you want to know what the next generation of theater folks are up to, check out what USM’s Student Performing Artists company can do with under $1000 and Neil LaBute’s script The Shape of Things. They’re putting it on at the Russell Hall Lab Theater on the Gorham campus from April 1 through April 6. Call (207) 780-5151 for times and tickets.