By Ardeana Hamlin
of the Weekly Staff
For Irene Dennis of Bangor, “the play’s the thing,” as Shakespeare’s Hamlet said. Among her many thespian activities, she heads up a play reading group that meets several times each month at Bangor Public Library.
The group had its start in summer 2011. “I was not involved in any shows at the time, and was itching for something theatrical to do,” Dennis said. “Summer is a particularly hard time to get people to commit to a full production or ongoing class, because of vacations. So I thought, I’ll just invite some friends over for a one-time get-together, to read a play.
“Turns out we had a nice mix of other theater professionals, members of local community theater, my adult ed students, and others who were just curious. From that first meeting, we evolved into a loosely formed group meeting monthly in people’s living rooms,” she said.
Dennis said the idea for starting the group was to explore some of the plays that weren’t being performed in this area, and in particular, those that featured middle-aged characters. “Being a ‘forty-something’ myself,” she said, “I was aware that there were a lot of plays that deal with issues pertaining to our age group, like aging, taking stock of career at mid-life, aging parents, parenting teenage or young adult children.
“I just hadn’t seen a lot of these plays being done in the greater Bangor area,” Dennis said.
The group had been meeting for several months when it was invited to meet at the library, a move that took place in January 2012. Currently, the group attracts six or seven people who range in age from teenagers to 80-something.
Because it was a “no-budget” entity, the group chose plays, featuring middle-aged or elderly characters, that existed in multiple copies through the Ursus system at the library. Then, the group learned that the Blue Hill Library also had a play reading group that had purchased multiple copies of scripts which they loaned to the Bangor group.
“Since then they have very generously donated all their previously read scripts to our group, and those scripts are now catalogued at Bangor Public LIbrary and available to the public,” Dennis said.
This year the group is reading plays that show the development of modern drama, including Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw. Dennis is thinking of focusing on women playwrights next year.
Bob Daisey of Bangor has attended the group for more than a year in response to his yen, upon retirement, to get into acting. He took several acting classes from Irene Dennis through the Bangor Adult Education Program.
“It takes you out of yourself,” he said. “It reboots you. No matter what play they are reading, I go. It expands the boundaries of what you can learn and how you can apply it.” In December, Daisey had a part in “The Wise Men of Spider Creek” by Bundy Boit and Aynne Ames, staged by the Belfast Maskers in Belfast.
Dennis is a professional actor, director, and teacher who received theater training at The Boston Conservatory. She most recently acted in the Penobscot Theatre production of “The Sugar Bean Sisters.” She also has been cast in roles for productions staged by Ten Bucks Theater, Belfast Maskers, and Northport Music Theatre. Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller are among her favorite playwrights.
“People really seem to enjoy it,” Dennis said of the group. “Those who have acted before get a kick out of trying on a new role or two; those who haven’t, get a chance to try reading aloud, without the pressure of an audition situation. We all enjoy the great discussions that these readings often generate.”
Dennis said one of the of the reasons she moved to Bangor from Boston 13 years ago was the availability of theater in the area. “But I think the play reading group fills a niche: It gives the curious reader another way to experience a play; to participate, without the time commitment of a full rehearsal schedule; to try something new and different; and to share ideas with folks from all different walks of life and experience levels. We all benefit from that kind of interconnection,” she said.
The play reading group is free and open to all. For information, call the Bangor Public Library at 947-8336.