Portland playwright draws on experience at Maine newspaper for dark comedy

Film and stage actress Elizabeth Lardie's play &quotTemporary Living Arrangements" will open at Portland Stage Company in January.
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Film and stage actress Elizabeth Lardie's play "Temporary Living Arrangements" will open at Portland Stage Company in January. Buy Photo
By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff
Posted Dec. 24, 2013, at 1:50 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — When Elizabeth Lardie took a job as a young editor at her hometown newspaper eight years ago, one of her primary responsibilities was preparing obituaries for print.

Regularly engaging in end-of-life discussions was an unusual role for someone who had just returned from four lively years of college in Sydney, Australia.

“It’s really weird to be 22 and handling death every day,” Lardie, now 30 and working as an actor, freelance writer and copy editor, said. “Especially if you’re going through a quarter-life crisis and you’re reading everybody’s life achievements.”

Despite being accomplished in the worlds of drama and writing alike, Lardie’s forthcoming dark comedy “Temporary Living Arrangements,” based in part on her experiences at the Brunswick-based daily The Times Record, is her first effort mixing the two specialties as a playwright.

As the newspaper’s community editor, Lardie claimed her share of Maine Press Association honors. As an actress in the acclaimed independent film “ How to Make Movies at Home,” she was nominated for a prestigious Jack Nance Best Breakthrough Performance Award at the New York City-based Visionfest Film Festival.

In “Temporary Living Arrangements,” put on by Lardie’s own Lanyard Theatre Company as part of Portland Stage Company’s Studio Rep series next month, she’ll play herself circa four years ago. Kind of.

Lardie will play Ollie, an editor at The Haven Daily Journal, in a fictional Knox County town based partly on Lubec, Vinalhaven and Bath.

“I wouldn’t say it’s only based on me,” the regular Manhattan Theatre Club contractor said. “I’d like to think I’m slightly more of a people person.”

Unlike in Lardie’s real life, Ollie’s mother is stricken with terminal cancer, a development that exacerbates a personal rut for the young newspaper editor who is already forced to pore through obituary submissions every day.

“She is surrounded by death — and as it turns out, the first person she befriends in this town is the funeral parlor assistant,” Lardie, who lives on Portland’s Munjoy Hill, said. “Despite the fact that she works with death, her mom is dying and her best friend is in the death business, she just doesn’t deal with it.”

With mortality constantly being thrown in her face, the otherwise shy and awkward Ollie must make human connections and tiptoe through not only the grieving process, but “how she approaches life from then on,” Lardie said.

But as crushing as a play so consumed by death may seem, “Temporary Living Arrangements,” which will be directed by Lardie’s longtime Lanyard cohort and accomplished New York actor Joseph Barbarino, is as much comedy as drama.

Ollie’s cast of colorful colleagues — including fellow newspaper editors Ezra and Martin, played by Matthew Delamater and Colin Kelley, respectively; terminally ill but still sassy mother Avril, played by Kerry Rasor; blunt funeral home assistant Jeremy, played by Benjamin S. Row; guardian angel-like neighborhood grandfather Jack Grace, played by Michael Tooher; and actress Karen Ball as the peppy hospice nurse, for example — keeps the protagonist on her toes and provides humor dark and light.

“Temporary Living Arrangements” will be one of three productions in rotation for Portland Stage Company’s Studio Rep series, which runs from Jan. 9 to Feb. 2. Lardie’s play, in particular, will be performed on Jan. 11, 17, 19, 22, 25, 30 and Feb. 1.

Portland Stage is located at 25A Forest Ave.

To help pay the cast for the play, which is also sponsored in part by the Maine Arts Commission, Lanyard Theatre Company launched a fundraising effort through the website Indiegogo, which continues through Dec. 26.

BDN staff members Seth Koenig and Troy R. Bennett also previously worked at The Times Record.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/12/24/living/performing-arts/portland-playwright-draws-on-experience-at-maine-newspaper-for-dark-comedy/ printed on November 25, 2014