Playwrights mix with sin in ‘Inferno Bar & Grill’

Posted May 17, 2010, at 6:38 p.m.

A theater critic wanders into a bar looking dazed and confused. She’s not quite sure why she’s there but does recall the last show she reviewed.

“I remember now,” the critic tells Dante, the bartender. “I went to see a new play. It was written and directed by two guys I’ve heard about, but I can’t remember their names. I thought it was kind of arrogant, because when I was looking at the program, I noticed they were both in it. I mean, can you imagine the audacity of writing, starring and directing your own show?”

Naturally, the critic is ushered onto an elevator headed down — all the way down.

Writers have imagined purgatory as a lot of different places. Having people stand around a bar in limbo isn’t really a new idea, but calling it the Inferno Bar & Grill and having the place peopled with the Seven Deadly Sins is.

Authors Corey Honkonen and Tod Widdecombe spent two years working on the script for the two-act play, “The Inferno Bar and Grill.” The midcoast Seaside Theater, founded in February 2009, produced it. The 90-minute play had its world premiere last Friday at the Camden Opera House. It will be presented at 7 p.m. Friday and Sunday at the same venue.

Honkonen, 27, of Rockland and Widdecombe, 37, of South Thomaston have known each other for about 10 years through Midcoast theater circles but hadn’t written together before. Neither had ever written for a cast of 14.

“The idea was not born in a bar,” Widdecombe, who plays the Shrouded Figure, said after Saturday’s performance, which drew about 50 people. “We just started talking about this nightclub where Dante was the bartender. We started shooting ideas back and forth, playing with things. We knew we had the actors in the area for the parts.”

But seeing it on the page is not the same as seeing it on stage or trying to make revisions and act while also directing, the pair agreed.

“It’s been amazing to see actors bring to life these words,” Honkonen, who plays Dante, said. “Then, to have an audience come in and respond is a wonderful feeling.”

Being in it also allowed the writers to fine tune and adjust things that might have worked on the page but fell flat on stage.

“It was really great to be able to ask the authors if I could change a word here or there,” said Jennifer True, 37, of Cushing, who plays one of the people who passes through the bar. “I found the character on the page but I was able to be a cipher and make her who she is for the very first time.”

The play is neither a comedy nor a drama but a combination of the two. True, Todd Martin, 38, of Rockland and Scott Anthony Smith, 25, of Brooks have the most serious roles. Their characters, caught in a love triangle, pass through the “Inferno Bar & Grill.”

The sins, on the other hand, provide much of the comedy, with Wrath, Lust, Envy and Gluttony garnering most of the laughs.

Clad in a kilt and a T-shirt plastered with a grinning Cookie Monster, Brad Fillion, 30, of Thomaston, must remember not to eat the day of a performance. As Gluttony, he eats and drinks throughout the play.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said after Saturday’s show. “I was experimenting with different things [in rehearsals] and it just wasn’t working. So, I modeled Gluttony after Fat Bastard, a character in the Austin Powers movies. As soon as I went to that extreme, it fell into place.”

Widdecombe and Honkonen said they hope to restage the show this summer in a different venue. The duo already has been talking about a sequel that would focus less on the sins of Lust and Wrath and feature Dante’s replacement. The authors are mum on whether their next theater critic will rise or fall.

“The Inferno Bar & Grill” will be presented at 7 p.m. Friday and Sunday, May 21 and 23, at the Camden Opera House. For information, call 594-9744 or visit www.camdenoperahouse.com.

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