PORTLAND, Maine — Four years after the 2002 debut of Cathy Plourde’s play “You the Man,” she got a phone call from an audience member who remembered the show from one of its earliest stagings.
“She said, ‘I sat down on my bed and realized I had to get out of my relationship — I realized I was in your play,’” the playwright recalled of the woman on the other end of the phone.
On Tuesday, March 27, Portland actor Brian Chamberlain will bring the 30-minute, one-man play — about domestic violence, its warning signs and ways to prevent it — to Dexter, where the community is still stinging from an incident last June in which Steven Lake killed his estranged wife and two children before committing suicide.
Admission to the show will be free thanks to sponsorships by several local individuals and organizations, namely Abbott Memorial Library, New Beginnings Bible Church, the local Hannaford supermarket and Dr. Robert J. Lodato. While “You the Man” has been performed in 35 states and three countries over the last decade and has 20 in-state dates in the 2012 calendar, the upcoming show takes on special significance because of its location and the Lake family tragedy, Plourde said.
“It’s poignant and compelling that the community actively worked to bring the program in,” Plourde said. “The loss of the family shook people at their roots, and because there was a suicide involved, you can’t really focus blame on a [living] individual. Bringing in the program was an action people could take at a time when it’s so hard to know what to do and how to engage.”
“You the Man” was inspired by Plourde’s previous career as a teacher, a role in which she said she came to realize that sexual abuse and dating violence among teenagers was becoming “pretty rampant.” She also realized, after talking with counselors and anti-domestic-violence advocates, that male voices at the time were lacking in the battle to teach respect and proper emotional expression to young men.
Portland-based Add Verb Productions, the touring University of New England group behind “You the Man,” points out that 80 percent of all domestic violence is perpetrated by men, and that almost half of Maine murders involve domestic violence — 11 out of 23 murders in 2011, for example.
Yet, Plourde said her play is not accusatory and does not aim to put male audience members on the defensive. She said the play acknowledges that “while most domestic violence is committed by men, most men are not abusive.”
In “You the Man,” a single male actor plays a number of roles, most of which are men with varying perspectives on an unseen woman and her increasingly dangerous relationship — her father, a friend, a police officer, an advice columnist.
“It’s not just about the statement that men are primarily the aggressors, but rather that men are the fathers and sons and brothers of the women who are being abused,” said Arthur Jette of Womancare-Aegis Association, which helped bring the show to Dexter. “When men are willing to confront other men about the attitudes surrounding women and violence against women, then things are going to change.”
While women who see the play sometimes start to see recognizable behaviors from their own circles of friends and family — and begin rethinking their own relationships, like the woman who called Plourde several years ago — men often have a different reaction.
“What happens a lot is males coming up to the male actor at the end and thanking him for speaking, for giving voice to this issue,” Plourde said. “I think men are relieved to see an alternative to the ‘Macho Box.’ Men are caring and compassionate. They’re human. But our culture doesn’t allow easy space for that.”
As with most places where Add Verb’s plays are performed, the 6 p.m. public show is preceded by a daytime high school program, and both shows are followed by panel discussions highlighting local support organizations for individuals suffering from or aware of domestic violence or sexual abuse.
Jette said the panel includes a representative of Womancare as well as those from the Dexter Police Department, Rape Response Services, nonprofit service provider Spruce Run and the University of Maine’s Male Athletes Against Violence group.
Kris Hall, associate director of Add Verb, is a Dexter Regional High School graduate whose brother was in Amy Lake’s class there.
“What Add Verb does is essentially education and prevention,” Hall said. “That’s what ‘You the Man’ is designed to do, and I think the community in Dexter would like to be known not so much for the tragedy that took place there as for what they’re doing to prevent anything like that from happening again. We’re looking forward to being a part of the conversation around what’s right about Dexter moving forward.”
Said Jette: “As long as I remember, there was a sign coming into Dexter that said ‘The Heart of Maine.’ We don’t want Dexter to be forever known as the place where violent acts take place. We want Dexter to be forever remembered as ‘The Heart of Maine,’ where we promote healthy relationships and families, and where we have no tolerance for abuse. … I think this is going to the first step in a process to heal the community.”