It’s no secret that there’s no shortage of talented, creative people in the midcoast. Visual artists, writers, artisans, videographers, chefs, actors and musicians thrive in its laid-back, supportive communities. This is one of the reasons that the Camden-based Everyman Repertory Theatre hit the ground running when it was founded in the fall of 2008 as the midcoast’s first professional theater company.
The company’s seventh full production, Moliere’s comedy “The Miser,” opens Friday, April 22, at Rockport Opera House, and runs for two weekends through Sunday, May 1. It’s a great example of the ERT’s penchant for producing great plays, from the American standard “The Man Who Came to Dinner” to contemporary favorites such as the Broadway hit “The 39 Steps,” produced last summer.
It might surprise a casual observer to note that the midcoast did not have a professional theater company before the ERT’s founding, despite such a wealth of talent in the area. Paul and Jen Hodgson, two of the founding members of ERT, were equally surprised when they moved to Knox County from the United Kingdom in 2000. The couple met in Wales at the Welsh College of Music and Drama, where both studied acting, later performing in Edinburgh and London. Paul Hodgson is from England; Jen Hodgson grew up in New York state.
“We both asked the same question: ‘Why don’t we have a professional theater company?’” said Paul Hodgson. “Other attempts at founding one had fallen by the wayside, so we set about doing all the necessary stuff to found a board, get 501(c)3 standing, all that. Then we met David.”
That’s David Troup, who moved to Rockland in 2005 after more than 20 years of working in theater in New York City. Troup, a member of the prestigious Actor’s Studio, had planned to get out of acting with his move, but found himself drawn back in upon meeting the Hodgsons.
“I never anticipated that it would be a part of my life anymore, but then I saw that not only could we do it, but there were a lot of talented people in the area with decades of experience,” said Troup, who, along with the Hodgsons, Mariane Swan, Dean Jorgenson, Robert Manns and Carole Leporati, founded the company in 2008.
The company include folks like Ken Barnes, who owns the Captain Lindsay Inn in Rockland and also has more than 50 theatrical design credits under his belt, including touring and repertory productions, off-Broadway, CBS and London’s West End; Alan Hall, a stage manager on Broadway for more than 30 years; and Belfast’s John Bielenburg, founder of Project M, master designer for the Belfast Maskers and an internationally renowned artist, who also has designed sets for ERT.
The company’s first production, the beloved Noel Coward comedy “Private Lives,” went up in November 2008, directed by Paul with a four-person cast that included the Hodgsons, David Troup and local actress Ashley St. Pierre. A winter break was followed by a production of Patrick Hamilton’s murder mystery “Gaslight,” produced in May 2009, directed by Paul Hodgson and starring the Hodgsons, Troup, Ann Foskett and Abbie Norman.
Further productions included “The Man Who Came to Dinner” in November 2009, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s little-known play “Conversation at Midnight” in March 2010, the madcap contemporary comedy “The 39 Steps” in November 2010, and, most recently, the British drama “84 Charing Cross Road” in February. Additionally, the ERT staged two dramatic readings: A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters” and Edward Albee’s “Occupant” in 2009.
This year, ERT will expand its season from two plays to three plays, with the season kicking off this weekend with “The Miser.” All members of the ERT’s board and company are committed to providing professional-quality theater at an affordable price to the entire midcoast region.
“What we are really interested in is having a certain level of quality in every one of our productions,” said Jen Hodgson. “We want actors with a level of experience, with the same kind of standard for backstage. We don’t have the budget of other, larger professional theater companies in the state, but we certainly have the commitment. “
The work put in by the company has paid off — the audience for “84 Charing Cross Road” was nearly triple the audience for its earlier shows. Clever marketing schemes, such as charging a dollar per ticket for the first show, helped fill seats to capacity.
“The goodwill and word of mouth that generated ensured that we had an audience for the rest of the run,” said Paul Hodgson. “Our little theater company has grown a lot since we first started, which was barely three years ago. We’re ready to take it to another level now.”
“The Miser” is the still-funny satirical comedy by 17th century French playwright Moliere about a penny-pinching moneylender (played by Paul Hodgson) and his two children, Elise (Ashley St. Pierre) and Cleante (Evan Sposato), who long to escape from his dreary, tyrannical household. Elise is in love with Valere (Jim Lattin), and Cleante is in love with Mariane (Abby Norman), but Harpagon wants them to marry other people, and the old man wants to marry Mariane himself. ERT’s production features a translation from the original French by Paul Hodgson.
After “The Miser,” the ERT will restage its popular production of “The 39 Steps” this summer at the Camden Opera House. In the fall, it will produce its most boundary-pushing play yet: “God of Carnage,” Yazmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning powerhouse about two married couples coming to blows in a hilarious yet brutal way.
“It gently pushes the envelope for us,” said Paul Hodgson. “We’ve been telling people it’s like ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ except both couples are George and Martha. We’re really, really looking forward to it.”
The Everyman Repertory Theatre will perform “The Miser” at 7:30 p.m. April 22-23 and April 29-30, and at 2 p.m. April 24 and May 1, at Rockport Opera House. Tickets are $18 for adults and $10 for students and children younger than 12. To reserve tickets, call 236-0173, or visit everymanrep.org.