2013-11-22 / Front Page

Theater urges ‘By Local’ this weekend

Sean P. Milligan
Contributing Writer


Nate Speckman, Payne Ratner and Chris Horton stand center stage as they discuss upcoming staged readings of "Pudding" and "Getting Daddy's Gak." The plays are the first of Mad Horse Theater's four-part "By Local" series. (Sean P. Milligan photo) Nate Speckman, Payne Ratner and Chris Horton stand center stage as they discuss upcoming staged readings of "Pudding" and "Getting Daddy's Gak." The plays are the first of Mad Horse Theater's four-part "By Local" series. (Sean P. Milligan photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – Mad House Theatre Company of South Portland presents its “By Local” series. Plays written by local Maine playwrights will be highlighted in a string of staged readings throughout the upcoming season beginning Thursday, Nov. 21.

The idea for “By Local” came from company member Brent Askari. While pitching ideas for the upcoming theater season, he suggested tapping into some of the local talent rather than doing renditions of better-known plays.

“There are so many great playwrights in Maine and (Askari) works with a number of them,” said Christine Marshall, artistic director at Mad Horse Theater Company. “It sounded like a really great idea and the thing is, we’re being inundated with plays from people. Not just people we expected them from, but people that haven’t been produced and we haven’t heard of before.”

The inaugural offerings include “Pudding” written by Michael Tooher and “Getting Daddy’s Gak” by Payne Ratner. Each play will be read on alternating nights and will be followed by a session of audience feedback before being read again later in the weekend.

“Pudding” is the story of a middle-aged widower coping with the loss of his wife in reclusiveness. When he finds solace in sending random people packages of pudding, a young woman takes notice and sees an opportunity.

“She’s sort of a high-powered businesswoman and she sees this as an opportunity of setting up this media thing with him being a crazy pudding man,” said Nate Speckman, director of “Pudding.” “It’s also a love story, oddly enough. That’s all I’ll say.”

Friday and Sunday’s featured reading, “Getting Daddy’s Gak,” also deals with family matters. Surrounding a father’s prized gun, “Getting Daddy’s Gak” centers on the origin of a boy who shows up on a family’s doorstep one day. With the possibility that the boy is the son the couple once gave up for adoption, the family accepts him as their own until another young man comes into their life.

The play takes place in Payne Ratners’ original home state of Kansas. The playwright and actor has spent more than 20 years residing in the Pine Tree State.

Mad Horse Theater Company is celebrating the beginning of its 28th season. What started as a small theater on Danforth Street in Portland has had to show resilience over the better portion of three decades.

After moving from Danforth Street to a theater hand built by its founders on Forest Avenue, Mad Horse operated at that location for a few years before running into financial trouble.

“The money kind of dried up and they had to relocate,” said Chris Horton, director of “Getting Daddy’s Gak” and company member. “Mike Levine, another amazing theater producer in Portland, had a theater over on Oak Street in Portland, and he started up the Oak Street Theater and Mad Horse moved in there for a few years.”

Before moving into Portland Stage Company, the spot Mad Horse spent the early part of this century, the company “went underground” doing shows in and around the University of Southern Maine and even performing in garages.

Its current spot, an old school house at 24 Mosher St. in South Portland, was originally meant to be office space and a rehearsal hall while performances were held at Lucid Theater on Baxter Boulevard. When Lucid Theater closed in fall 2012, the company was left in a panic until Marshall pitched the idea to hold performances at the only location they had left.

“Christine said ‘Let’s just do it here,’” Speckman said. “We spent a summer putting up pipes and hanging drapes and turning this place into a theater.”

The space, albeit small, has been hand crafted into a versatile stage that projects the performers at its center.

The readings, which begin this weekend from Nov. 21 to the 24, are not a full production. Several actors will read the dialogue and stage directions allowing the audience to use their imagination to gauge their vision of the final product.

“We’re essentially reading the whole text to these people,” Speckman said. “It’s like listening to a story on tape.”

“Pudding” will be read both Thursday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. “Getting Daddy’s Gak” will be read Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Admission is pay what you can with a $10 suggested donation.

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