Down East Maine humor takes stage in ‘Closer to Home’



PHOTO BY NAN LINCOLN

From left to right, playwright Brent Hutchins, Robin Vesey and Lucy Jan-Turan rehearse their roles in the new play

BAR HARBOR — Local playwright, director, developer and antique dealer Brent Hutchins will bring his premier work, “Closer to Home,” and some of his antiques as well to the Criterion Theater for four performances from Thursday, Oct. 9, through Sunday, Oct. 12.

“Closer to Home” is a collection of loosely related vignettes. With titles such as “Snow Plowin’,” “Up to the Store” and “What’s for Suppah,” it’s not hard to figure out that the pieces being performed are in the classic Down East Humor genre. In fact, Hutchins said he has been negotiating with David Lyman, a co-owner of Marshall Dodge’s well loved Bert and I collection, for rights to that material.

“We have done several events with David,” Hutchins said, “mixing my skits with ‘Burt & I’ skits. They make a great contrast to each other. David loves my material. In fact I wrote ‘What’s for Suppah’ for the Rockland Lobster Festival because he requested something about lobster.”

The “Bert & I” influence is easy to detect in Hutchins works, which are primarily not so much stories, as jokes with long windups that always deliver pithy punch lines. “Thanksgiving Touché,” in which a couple of neighbors, Ida (Barbara Bland) and Vida (Robin Vesey), rehash their holiday dinner, each trying to one-up the other with the amount and variety of food they served, would make any hostess blush a little recalling their own post Thanksgiving conversations with friends.

And anyone who has attended a selectman’s meeting in their town will recognize or may actually be one of the characters expressing his or her opinion in “Town Meetin’.”

Judging from his “man walks into a pet shop” sort of set ups, one also suspects that Hutchins was at some point in his life a Monty Python fan.

While some of these pieces have been seen in other forms at other venues and events, this is the first time Hutchins, who also plays several of the characters in the play, has put so many together for a “feature length” production.

Describing himself as a “third generation MDI carpenter” he said the theatrical aspect of his life began during his high school years at MDI High in the Demas-Higgins era. He also did several plays with Lucy Bell Sellers at College of the Atlantic. For ten tears, he was a set designer and actor with Ten Bucks Theater in Brewer before moving onto the little stage at the Community Theater in Lamoine, where he has a home. He made his directorial debut there with the excellent production of the classic comedy “You Can’t Take It With You.”

About two years ago, Hutchins started writing down some of the Yankee humor-style stories that were running around his head.

“I have skits about yard sales, grange suppers, ice fishing, soap box derbies, gravel pit wars ….” in short, the small town antics and people – both native and nonnative – he has been observing all his life.

“One of my goals is to give so-called PFAs (People From Away) some credence as Mainers, despite the old saws about biscuits and ovens etcetera,” he said. “Some of these PFAs have lived in Maine for 50 years and care as much about the place or more than many of us ‘natives.’ They do make irresistible humor targets though,” he added.

He said it is a real thrill for him to see his stories performed.

“It never ceases to amaze me how a script can come to life!”

Hutchins said he put this play together with Lamoine’s little Grange Hall in mind. He acknowledged it would be better suited to his intimate little scenes than the 900-seat art deco theater, but circumstances made it impossible. And anyway, he said, he has long history with the Criterion.

“I graduated from a front row seat with Tootsie Rolls when I was a kid, to a balcony seat with girlfriends,” he said, “so bringing my play here is kind of a homecoming for me.”

With his set design experience and a large collection of period furniture and memorabilia as resources, Hutchins has managed to transform the rather grand, wide Criterion stage into something cozier, more accessible, with sets that are instantly relatable. There’s the ma and pa-style convenience store, the local bar and grill, Ida and Vida’s cozy kitchens and your typical town hall meeting room, all of which will be familiar to local audiences.

The large cast he has assembled is a combination of Mainers and “awayers” that give the whole thing an authentic feel. Some actors, such as Ben Layman who cross dresses as the character Bertha, are pros with vast stage experience. Others, like COA student Lucy Jan-Turan, are relative newcomers. It is an interesting mix. It should be great fun.

Performances of “Closer to Home” are scheduled for Oct. 9, 10 and 11 at 7:30 p.m., and Oct 12 at 3 p.m.

Tickets may be purchased at the door for $15 for adults, $10 for seniors (over 60) and children under 12.

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.