PEMBROKE, Maine — With a wood stove roaring for heat and the sounds of night winds creaking the roof, the Magnificent Liars are holding rehearsal in a prop-filled barn. A tiny cast transports the viewers into the woods of Illinois, where three lifelong friends confront their differences.
There are shotgun blasts, a little pot smoking and a whole lot of swearing. What else would you expect from three hunters confronting their lives in the woods? But overriding it all is a strong sense of professionalism — a more-than-competent cast telling a hard-to-hear dark comedy of shredded friendships.
Community theater is alive and thriving Down East — there are local theater groups in Machias, Eastport, Lubec, Calais and Pembroke — but the Liars are just a bit different. They have developed a reputation for quality, innovation and originality. But they also operate without buildings, sponsors, grants or mission statements.
“The Liars continue to have the courage to present challenging pieces which are a risk at a time when superficial entertainment and finances too often dictate,” director Martha Getchell said.
If community theater is “Hello Dolly,” then the Liars are “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and they are hitting the road with their latest two-act play, “Lady.” The advertising for “Lady” carries a warning: “‘Lady’ contains adult situations and language and is not suitable for children under 15.”
“Lady,” written by Craig Wright, is the hard-hitting story of truth — the kind of truth even best friends keep from each other because, once revealed, it tears them apart. There is no happy ending here, and that is just what the Liars prefer. They describe themselves as “a rogue operation” and a “maverick band of theater veterans.”
“Our objective is to illuminate the text and grow as theater artists by choosing important, sometimes unconventional, material and producing theater that is an adventure for ourselves and our audiences,” producer Anne Moody said on rehearsal night earlier this week.
One of the three principals in “Lady” is Pulitzer Prize nominee Michael Moody, a professional actor, playwright, screen and television writer who worked in New York City and Los Angeles before moving to the woods of Pembroke to teach and raise a family. He said this tour is the first time the Liars have brought their work outside Washington County.
“What we do is so difficult,” Moody said. “But, the only things worth doing are difficult.
“Everybody that comes to a Liars show hears the truth,” said Lou Esposito, a founder of Stage East in Eastport and the Liars, who plays Dyson, a philanderer who is afraid of losing his son.
Moody said that the idea for Liars was hatched at a cast party for Stage East in 2000. “We talked about doing stuff that couldn’t be done in a traditional theater context,” she said. At its first performance, the Liars adopted the speakeasy approach. “We were tired of begging for an audience so we told people they couldn’t come, that it was by invitation only,” she said. “The word got out and there was a huge buzz. People kept asking us for invitations. Voila, we had a ready-made audience.”
Brian Schuth, who plays a U.S. congressman in the play, said acting “is how I figure out how to be a human being, the place where I can question the difficulties and joys of life.” He said he reaches into the interior of his character to “unpack who this person is and be able to show other people.”
“It’s also a lot of fun,” he admits.
Moody said the Liars are deliberately unstructured and unfunded. “We are not trying to dismiss conventional community theater,” Schuth added. “Without an organizational structure, venues such as the Eastport Arts Center wouldn’t be there. We just prefer this more unconventional path.”
Moody said people — sometimes up to 20 — come to perform with varying degrees of experience and years have gone by without a performance. “Lady” is the seventh Liars production. “We are not affiliated with one theater so we can move around,” she said.
“We are guerrilla theater,” Moody said.
Other Down Easters participating in “Lady” include Caitlyn Stellrecht of Eastport, assistant producer; Roland Bechard of Charlotte, sound and light; Chris Grannis of Pembroke, props; Valerie Lawson of Robbinston, publicity and Lauren Simpson of Pembroke, box office.
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Performances of “Lady”:
- Eastport Arts Center, Eastport, 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 4,5, 11 and 12; 3 p.m. Sunday, March 6 and 13. Tickets $10.
- Belfast Maskers Theater, 43 Front St., Belfast, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 26. Tickets $15.
- Lincoln Street Center for the Arts and Education, 24 Lincoln Street, Rockland, 7 p.m. Saturday, April 2. Tickets $10.
- Lucid Stage, 29 Baxter Blvd., Portland, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 8 and 9. Tickets $18; $15 for advanced purchases, students and seniors.