‘Closer to Home’ is wicked good fun

Town selectmen, played by Peter Johnson, Robin Vesey and Julie Lisnet, lose control over a town meeting in Brent Hutchins play “Closer to Home,” which debuted at the Criterion Theater in Bar Harbor last weekend. ISLANDER PHOTO BY NAN LINCOLN

Town selectmen, played by Peter Johnson, Robin Vesey and Julie Lisnet, lose control over a town meeting in Brent Hutchins play “Closer to Home,” which debuted at the Criterion Theater in Bar Harbor last weekend. ISLANDER PHOTO BY NAN LINCOLN

BAR HARBOR —The multitalented, hyper-energetic Brent Hutchins has pulled off something of a theatrical miracle with his play “Closer to Home,” a compilation of loosely related Down East humor vignettes. And, he managed to do it while avoiding most of the clichés and tropes of that genre.

The show, for which he designed the sets, and which he wrote, cast, directed, performed in and successfully debuted last weekend at the Criterion, brought color, humor and warmth to the old theater on a chilly autumn night.

And, oh my, what fun it was to attend a live play at the wonderful Criterion Theater; fun because it was an engaging, humorous play filled with familiar characters and wonderfully acted by a cast of talented amateurs and a couple of pros; and fun because a good number of folks showed up for each of the four performances, filling the air with laughter.

Hutchins himself sets the scene with his opening narration, a la “Our Town,” describing with spot-on precision the layout and feel of a Maine general store, in this case “Herb’s General Store,” where one can find everything from cake mix to live bait to three-penny nails. But really, Hutchins has done such a terrific job with his set design and stage dressing that the little corner of the store by the checkout counter is all we need to see to imagine the rest. In fact, for each of his vignettes, he created just enough of the place – Pud’s Café, Vida and Ida’s kitchen tables, a town hall meeting room, etc. – that we know not only where we are, but what’s in the other room.

Populating these locations are folks like Dubba (Hutchins), who talks so fast one has to have grown up with him to understand a word he’s saying. Thelma (Julie Lisnet) unpacks her entire voluminous purse on the checkout counter looking for a 50-cent coupon that she had stuck in her hat for safe keeping. Bertha (Ben Layman) has left her hearing aids at home and carries on a booming and boisterous conversation with storekeepers Herb (Robin Vesey) and her mystified young assistant Crystal (Lucy Jan-Turan) without properly hearing a thing they say. A hilarious collection of town meeting goers responds to the idea of a proposed ordinance to limit the number of dogs one can own to three. Comments range from the concern of one citizen that she will be hauled off to jail when her dog has a large litter of pups, to the angry man who loudly insists it’s a communist plot. Another wants to move the question because she doesn’t want to miss “Wheel of Fortune.”

There also are a couple of interludes of straight storytelling, one from the excellent Tom St. Claire as an “old timer” recounting the day in 1947 when he came home from fighting the great fire in Bar Harbor and encountered a runaway horse and hay rake in Somesville.

Hutchins describes the disastrous encounter between his father and a tree with a hollow heart. These tales were written with such delicious detail and honesty (albeit exaggeration) that one has to believe they were passed down though generations of Hutchins’ before reaching this stage.

The vignette’s, while perhaps not literally true, have that same honest ring. Although most of his scenes end with a punch line of sorts, Hutchins doesn’t really write for the big laughs. In his “Ayuh Lessons,” a very funny homage to Monty Python, he simply describes something real, and we laugh because we recognize it. A husband expresses his frustration with his wife’s new Kindle, “Her side of the bed hasn’t glowed like that since we were first married.” Two women (Barbara Bland, Robin Vesey) one-up each other over the phone about the Thanksgiving feast they each prepared. A café owner draws the line at following recent foody trends by refusing to put lobster in his mac and cheese. A couple of snow plowers (John Hutchins, Brian Booher) gripe about the demands of their customers, and a couple of fellas (Jeff Holms, Arthur Morrison) discuss their New Year’s resolutions. We know these people. Some of us are these people.

The sad news is that “Closer to Home” had only a one weekend run at the Criterion. Hopefully, Pud, Herb, Vida and Ida and the rest will be appearing at some other area venue one day. If so, don’t miss it.

Actually the new Criterion owners would be wise to book it for a summer run. The tourists would love it.

Hutchins also has promised a “Part Two” for 2015, which is definitely something to look forward to, deah.


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.

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