Author Ruth Moore has been called “the Stephen King of her time.” She published novels, short stories, poems, essays and reviews in her 60 years of writing. Several of her books became bestsellers in the late 1950s and 1960s but were out of print by the mid-1980s.
This month, Opera House Arts is presenting an original play based on Moore’s short stories at Stonington Opera House. “I Have Seen Horizons: Ruth Moore’s Stories of Maine” uses an ensemble cast to bring to life the characters the writer encountered growing up in Hancock County.
The title comes from the words found on a sheet of paper in Moore’s typewriter after she died. “I have seen horizons…” it said.
Moore was born on Gott’s Island in 1903 and died in 1989. She spent much of her adult life writing from her Bass Harbor home. She was so well known that tourists would stop by the house hoping to catch a glimpse of her, the way visitors today have their photos taken in front of King’s Bangor home.
Meg Taintor and Natalya Baldyga directed the show and created the script from seven of Moore’s stories — “Farmer Takes a Newspaper,” “The Ladies from Philadelphia,” “The Lonely of Heart,” “Creepy,” “The Soldier Shows His Medal,” “When Foley Craddock Tore Off My Grandfather’s Thumb” and “The Bottle-Green Bottle.”
They are often funny, sometimes touching and always heartfelt. The cast takes on very different roles in each tale, performing on a stage adorned only with wooden lobster traps. The actors move them about and use a few props to tell the stories, which are more focused on character than on plot.
The ensemble cast of Cate Damon, Katie Zaffrann, Summit Colman, Caleb Mayo, Dee Pelletier and Paul Farwell work well together. In each story, the actors create distinct characters who are familiar types of Mainers but never stereotypes.
Pelletier and Farwell are particularly fine in “The Ladies from Philadelphia” and “When Foley Craddock Tore Off My Grandfather’s Thumb.” Both uniquely capture the taciturn Mainer without making fun of their accents of their foibles. They also capture what Tim Sample calls Maine humor, the kind that catches up to people hours after they’ve heard the joke.
Mayo shines as the modest soldier home from war, seeking to reconnect with his former teacher in “The Soldier Shows His Medal.” As the new teacher in “Creepy,” Damon’s forced smile sends waves of laughter through the audience each time she flashes it.
The show uses some original music and songs from the time period in which a story is set to transition from one piece to the next. “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else but Me” introduces the story of a soldier returning home from World War II. The song was recorded in 1942 and was popular throughout the war years.
It was unclear after the show whether the play will be able to find an audience outside New England, as Aroostook County native John Cariani’s “Almost, Maine” has. Most of Moore’s stories are so rooted in the rocky coast of Maine where people earn their living fishing and tending to the needs of “summah people” that it is hard to imagine “I Have Seen Horizons” will “play in Peoria.”
Yet by producing it, Opera House Arts again has demonstrated its commitment to presenting original works that authentically reflect life in Maine’s coastal communities and its islands.
“I Have Seen Horizons: Ruth Moore’s Stories of Maine” will be performed through Aug. 26 at the Stonington Opera House. For information, call 367-2788 or visit operahousearts.org.
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