Dubba, played by Chris Urquhart, hangs out with Burt Bunker (Steve Gormley) up to the store in Brent Hutchins’ play “Closer to Home” being performed Feb. 12-14 at The Grand in Ellsworth. PHOTO BY GEORGIANA PULVER

Play captures life closer to home

ELLSWORTH — It’s hard to imagine what sort of shared interest a former Martha Graham dancer from New York, and a self-described third-generation Bar Harbor carpenter might have in common.

But the willowy and stylish Carol Korty and the whiskery, flannel and jeans-clad Brent Hutchins remind us that we should never make assumptions about people based on where they hail from, what they do or how they dress.

Although they started out in life at very different places and different times — she came of age in the ’50s, he in the ’80s— their separate journeys have brought them physically and creatively to essentially the same place.

They, now, both call Lamoine home and they have recently collaborated on a full-length play, “Closer to Home,” which will be performed at The Grand, Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 12-14.

Korty graduated from Antioch with a Bachelor of Arts in performing arts, and went on to get her Master of Arts in theater at Sarah Lawrence College. For some 40 years before retiring to Lamoine (where her grandmother Sadie Coggins came from), she has been involved in theater in one form or another — first dancing with a variety of professional New York companies, then teaching classes in children’s theater at the University of Massachusetts and writing and directing her own plays. Since she and her husband, Dale, have lived in Lamoine, she has spearheaded the transformation of the local Grange Hall into an active community theater that has during her tenure as artistic director graduated from performing silly romantic melodramas to classic drama, most recently Chekhov.

Brent Hutchins caught the theater bug at Mount Desert Island High School during the Demas-Higgins era, where he enjoyed both on- and off-stage roles in 17 plays. Although his career trajectory has been more entrepreneurial than artsy — in addition to the family tradition of carpentry, he’s a contractor, business manager, antique dealer…the list goes on — his passion for theater has continued unabated.

Hutchins has performed in and or designed sets for College of the Atlantic where he took a few philosophy courses, Ten Bucks Theater, The Meeting House Theater Lab in Winter Harbor and the Lamoine Community Arts Theater. More recently he has, under the mentorship of Korty, started directing plays and with her encouragement, began developing a collection of his own Downeast humor stories for the stage.

“When I started writing these pieces two years ago, I’d take ’em over to Carol’s house when she was out walkin’ the dog and leave ’em in her vestibule.” He says. “Later we’d talk about ’em and she’d make suggestions, which most often I’d take. Somehow we most always seem to be on the same page.”

One suggestion Hutchins balked at, however, was turning his collection of stories into a genuine play — linking them together with some sort of cohesive narrative and characters that reappear in different scenes.

“I saw them as separate pieces that could be moved about at will, like Legos, depending upon the setting,” he says.

Eventually, however, Korty convinced him to at least choose a dozen or so of his stories and perform them under the title “Closer to Home.” The debut at the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor last October was a big success, earning a standing ovation and enthusiastic reviews.

In that early incarnation of the play, the various “acts,” with titles such as “Snow Plowin’,” “What’s for Suppah,” “Town Meetin’” and “Up to the Store,” are united only by the sense that the folks in them seem to come from the same Doweast community.

“When Carol came aboard as my dramaturge [think play doctor] — she persisted in getting me to link the various bits and pieces together,” Hutchins says. “She’d say, ‘I need a page here, or a paragraph there to tie these two pieces together. ‘I swear to God I went through $300 in printer ink writing and copying out new pages and new scripts for the actors.”

In the midst of this process, The Grand approached Korty, asking if she’d be interested in directing some plays for them. Of course she was, but first she queried, would they be interested in producing the new version of “Closer to Home” that she and Brent were developing.

They were, but it would have to be February.

“When Carol came to me with the idea I was excited about having my show performed at the Grand, “ says Hutchins, “but I didn’t think we could get it ready by then. She convinced me we could — and like I said she’s a genius.”

Korty says she never had a doubt.

“I have worked in theater my whole life,” she says. “And I have never had a more rewarding collaborative experience than I have working with Brent — and the whole crew, really — on this play. Everyone has contributed in some way.

“Of course, Brent with his amazing ear has the final word on the dialogue and he uses it,” she continues.

Just this last rehearsal one of the actors misread his line saying, ‘Is it still snowing out there?’ and Brent shouted out, “No, no, he wouldn’t say it like that! He’d ask, ‘Is it still coming down out there?’ I would have missed that, but it makes a world of difference in terms of making these characters authentic.”

With some 25 of these characters in the play, one might assume that finding people willing to give up their free time to study lines and attend rehearsals, midwinter would be problematic.

“Just the opposite in fact,” says Hutchins. “Everyone wanted be a part of this. A lot of my former cast will be returning and some new people will be joining. I actually had to write new characters and dialogue to fit them all in!”

Folks will get a chance to meet all those characters — Ida, Dubba, Wally, Cappy, Herb and the gang, during the four performances of “Closer to Home” at The Grand, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 12 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 13 at 2 and 7:30 p.m.

“We are excited to have “Closer to Home” at The Grand as part of our continuing commitment to present live theater on our stage,” says Grand Executive Director Gail Thompson. “Brent Hutchins’ play is a great example of local theater, written, directed, and starring members of our community.”

For tickets and information call 667-9500 or visit www.grandonline.org.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.