"HAY FEVER"  is sheer bliss.

by Nan Lincon, The Ellsworth American.

 

The outer limits of my theatrical travels has just expanded by 25 mile or so.  Saturday night I passed through Blue Hill and my usual stop at the Town Hall Theater.  I continued west along route 176, which consisted largely of narrow, bumpy country roads, pssing through towns like Penobscot and Sedgwick and eventually reaching Brooksvillemwith the Bagaduce River's sparkling waters off to the left and lush, rolling hayfields and farmhouses to the right.

A small, white hand-painted sign at the end of Mills Point Road announced the way to the Bagaduce Theatre, which was putting on a performance of Noel Coward's "Hay Fever".

As lovely as this evening drive was, I was feeling a bit trepidatious about the hour-and-a-half drive home as I bumped along this unpaved lane for about a mile or so - more fields and farmhouses until I arrived at my destination.  This turned out to be another farmhouse with a handsome gambrel-roofed barn set in a vast field with the river within walking distance.

As lovely as this all was, the place seemed more suited to a herd of cows than the sophisticated, urbane works of Coward.

I was forgetting, of course, that this particular play, "Hay Fever", is set in the English country house of the retired stage actress Judith Bliss and her family.  Even so, I was expecting hay bales to be a significant element of the set design and a sort of "Hey guys, let's put on a show in the barn" sort of performance.

Again, oh my!

Bagaduce Theatre's stage does, indeed, have two hay lofts hovering above it, but no bales in sight.  Instead what the audience walked into was set designer John Vivian's elegant, well-appointed living room resembling a gilded-era Bar Harbor summer cottage.

What followed, thrillingly directed by Patricia Conolly with assistance from Byran Lescord, was a master class in great theater.

What a perfect choice of play for this setting and the superb cast of professional actors, aspiring professionals and talented locals.
We first meet the Bliss children, the adorably self-absorbed Sorrel (an enchanting Lauren Elwood) and her alternatley petulant and passionate brother Simon (an excellently angst-ridden Gaines Semler).

 

They are a perfectly matched set of terribly attractive, terribly entitled 20-somethings, who at the  moment are lounging about and bickering about their love lives or lack thereof.  It seems each of them has invited a guest for the weekend, claiming the preferred spare room.  They are interrupted by the maid Clara, whose portratyal by Sally Mills once again proves there is no such thing as a small part - even when setting a formal table or placing a tea trey she exudes righteous resentment.

Enter mama, Judith Bliss, who announces in this and every other entrance and exit she makes and all moments in between, that she is a famous stage actress and has still got what it takes.  Monique Fowler, a Broadway actress herself, plays this fabulous woman with such commanding perfection that we can't take our eye's off her.  She is the sun about which all the other characters and the audience revolve.  It appears that she too has invited a young admirer to stay the weekend.  This, despite the fact that her novelist husband David, perfectly underplayed by Robert Burke, is upstairs writing his next potboiler.  He too, we discover, when he emerges from his garret, has invited a guest - a pretty young flapper he plans to study for his novel.

When the guests arrive, the arch beauty Myra (a wonderfully devious Simone Stadler); the buttoned-up diplomat Richard (an excellent Daryll Heysham): the star-struck, no, besotted, boy Sandy (an adorably nerdy Andy Donnelly); and the shy flapper Jackie (sweetly realized by Ella Smith), we soon discover they each have an amorous ulterior motive - and not necessarily with the Bliss that brought 'em.  They are, however, way, way, out of their league.

What unfolds is an extraordinary hilarious game of cat and mouse with the Bliss family batting about the emotions of their hapless house guests like cat toys.  Eventually both the guests and audience figure out that it is all a charade this dramatically over-endowed family enjoys playing when they get bored bickering with one another.   While the houseguests make an escape with their dignity in tatters, I'm sure I wasn't the only member of the audience who would have liked to have stayed on to experience more of these blissful shenanigans.

The marvelous Monique Fowler was apparently responsible for the excellent 1920's costuming as well as her starring role, which included her own flowing caftans, Myra's elegant gowns, Sorrel's girlish summer frock, lots of tweed for the guys and Clara's hand-tatted Bertha collar, cuffs and cap.

Everything about this play, like its star, shrieked professionalism and was well worth the time, effort and gas mileage it took to get there.  The only diappointment I felt as I made the long drive home was that I had missed two years of these productions.  I will not make that mistake again. 

 

 

Bagaduce’s ‘Long Day’s Journey’ illuminates darkness of addiction   By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff • July 25, 2018 4:50 pm

Eugene O’Neill knows a bit about addiction and the havoc it can wreck on a family. His masterpiece, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” reflects all a family experiences when someone struggles with addiction — shame, blame, fear, hope, denial, excuses, accusations, renunciations and recriminations.

Bagaduce Theatre in Brooksville makes this family drama more about addiction than one character’s exploitation of flaws in another. Director Patricia Connolly makes the Tyrones feel like summer neighbors today instead of the ghosts of people who lived a century ago. Everything about this “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is painfully raw and real.  The play takes place over the course of one day as Mary’s actor husband, James, and her sons, Jamie and Edmund, watch her relapse after returning from a sanitarium clean and sober. The men confront her, and each other, as she drifts into the past, but to no avail.

Monique Fowler is magnificent as Mary. Her slow slide back to the needle is as painful for the audience to watch as it is for Mary’s family. Fowler expertly wields the dagger sheathed in satin that is O’Neill’s dialogue. One minute she is the loving mother, the next blithely denying her addiction or blaming it on others. She is brilliant.

As James Tyrone, John Wojda, is an equal match for Fowler. Their portrayals make it easy to see what first attracted the matinee idol to the convent school girl and how that early passion evolved into a dangerous waltz. Wojda captures all of Tyrone’s working class roots, his pride at overcoming poverty and his fear of “dying in the poor house” garnering more sympathy than the character probably deserves.

Together, Wojda and Fowler reveal how step by bloody step this couple came to be where they are at the end of this one long day. They also embrace the beauty of O’Neill’s complex language that at the same time soothes and stabs.

Bryan Lescord and Matt Falber portray Jamie and Edmund, respectively. Both actors give sympathetic, yet complex portrayals of characters sometimes overshadowed by their parents.

Lescord makes Jamie more lovable than other actors have. It is impossible to reject him as a drunkard or aging rebellious teenager refusing to take responsibility for his life. Lescord lets the audience see how Mary’s addiction has shaped her elder son and how his own use of alcohol mirrors his mother’s struggle.

Falber portrays Edmund with more innocence and naivete than others have. This stand-in for the playwright O’Neill, who also had consumption, is a keen observer. This Edmund is always watching, always just slightly detached. Falber gives a lovely and layered performance as a young writer who doesn’t understand how love can be so deadly.

The set, designed by Fowler and John Vivian, is shabbily rustic. There are few pictures or posters of James’ stage triumphs on the walls, but the bookshelves are full. Fowler’s costumes are equally well-worn but lovely.

“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is transformative theater. O’Neill said that: “The individual life is made significant just by the struggle.” The Tyrone family’s struggle with the impact of addiction is reflective of the struggle Maine families are feeling every day in the 21st century. O’Neill’s insight is timeless and profound and Bagaduce Theatre beautifully illuminates this dark drama.

“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” will be performed through Aug. 5 at Bagaduce Theatre at 176 Mills Point Road in Brooksville. For tickets, call 207-801-1536 or visit bagaducetheatre.com.

 

Bagaduce Theatre delivers powerful “Long Day’s Journey”

By Ellen Booraem

 

BROOKSVILLE – Eugene O’Neill knew all about addiction.  His autobiographical play “Long Day’s Journey into Night” ticks the boxes like a documentary on the subject.  And yet it is also a theatrical masterpiece, a stunning work of art in which four complex, despicable, oddly entertaining characters hold hands on their way to rock-bottom.                                                                                                                              

Sounds depressing, but in the hands of director Patricia Conolly and her Bagaduce Theatre actors, “Long Day’s Journey” makes for an engrossing evening. Despite the drinking and fighting and cruelty and hopelessness, this rendition of the tragic Tyrone family has a warm heart.

The production is onstage at Bagaduce Theatre one more weekend, with shows at 7 p.m. Aug. 2-4 and 3 p.m. Aug. 5. Even if you spent the day out on the water, you’ll stay awake for this.

“Long Day’s Journey” mirrored O’Neill’s family and young manhood so closely that he stipulated it not be produced until after his death (at which point it won a Pulitzer). It depicts one horrible day in the lives of the Tyrone family, whose paterfamilias, James, a once-promising actor, drinks to forget that he sold out for big bucks. Elder son Jamie is an actor too, but he’s more interested in whiskey and whoring. Son Edmund, standing in for O’Neill, is a more delicate soul who has tried to mimic James’s rough and ready life only to be stricken with consumption.

We meet the Tyrones on the day Edmund gets diagnosed with tuberculosis and mother Mary, who became addicted to morphine a couple of decades ago while recovering from Edmund’s difficult birth, slides back into her drugged haze after a period of sobriety. Her three men mourn her lack of will-power while becoming progressively drunker and more argumentative. It’s no accident that a foghorn plays a starring role.

Bagaduce is a repertory company, each summer forming a troupe of equity actors and talented local amateurs who collaborate on a season’s worth of plays and staged readings. The cast in this production couldn’t be better. After the first three minutes, a bit stuttery in last Friday’s performance, the actors found their rhythm and we were off, the audience utterly absorbed.

Company co-founder Monique Fowler is a heartbreaking Mary Tyrone, finding in morphine a gateway back to her happy past as a cosseted convent girl. True to an addict’s form, she’s always on the hunt for excuses or somebody else to blame. Fowler’s expressive eyes and mobile face give us everything O’Neill hoped for in his stage directions as Mary spins from loving to sly to imploring, from angry to desolate, often in the space of one speech. Her hands are restless, finding peace only when she’s fresh from the needle.

John Wojda gives a finely tuned performance as James Tyrone, conveying the man’s eager affection and flashing temper, his pride and his shame. The man banished his Irish accent years ago, but Wojda conveys a telltale lilt when Tyrone is under stress. He and Fowler seesaw between tenderness and disgust, showing us the attraction that brought them together and the love that might have been if morphine and alcohol hadn’t drifted in like a deadly fog.

This might have been a loving family, in fact. Bryan Lescord as Jamie and Matt Falber as Edmund give insightful performances as young men desperate for a sober mother and a real home —“home” is a big word in this play — but made cynical by the past, another big word. The interplay between the sons and between sons and parents is wrenching, never more so than in Act IV, which plays like a jazz improvisation giving each character a solo. It’s here that family members reveal their true selves, seeking understanding and redemption, and it’s here that Lescord’s compassionate portrayal of the wastrel Jamie bears fruit, allowing us to sympathize when he’s at his most contemptable.

The characters do understand one another better at the end of the play. But there’s little hope of redemption.

“A Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is at Bagaduce Theatre (the Fowler Farm, 176 Mills Point Road, Brooksville) through Aug. 5, 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Open seating tickets are $25. Reservations/information: www.bagaducetheatre.com or (207) 801-1536.

 

 

Raves for "The Belle of Amherst" with Monique Fowler as Emily Dickinson!

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Arts & Culture

‘The Belle of Amherst’ beautifully brings Dickinson to life in Brooksville barn

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff • September 21, 2017 6:28 am

 

Monique Fowler portrays Emily Dickinson in the one-woman show, "The Belle of Amherst" at Bagaduce Theatre. The play is performed in a converted barn on the Fowler Farm, which overlooks the Bagaduce River.

 

“Success is counted sweetest

By those who ne’er succeed.

To comprehend a nectar

Requires sorest need.”

Emily Dickinson knew a lot about not succeeding. She wrote nearly 1,800 poems on scraps of paper but just seven were published in her lifetime.

 

A recluse, Dickinson spent all of her 55 years living is her father’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts, rarely venturing further than the garden. Yet, along with Walt Whitman, she is considered to be the finest American poet of the 19th century.

This fall, Dickinson is vibrantly brought to life by actress Monique Fowler at Bagaduce Theatre in Brooksville in “The Belle of Amherst.” The one-woman show was written by William Luce and first performed in 1976 by Julie Harris, who earned a Tony Award for the role.

Fowler is a founder of the theater company that performs in a converted barn on her family’s property, located at the end of Mills Point Road. The view from outside the barn Sunday before and after the matinee was breathtakingly beautiful.

The performance inside is equally magical. Fowler brings Dickinson to life. The actress shows the poet’s playful spirit, her vulnerabilities and the deep disappointments she endured in trying to publish her poems.

Fowler uses Dickinson’s poems, liberally sprinkled throughout the two-act play, as a window into the woman’s soul and as a mirror that reflects the world in which she lived. Fowler’s tour-de-force performance is a wonder to behold.

The intimate setting — the theater has 60 seats — and the period antiques, including old paintings and photographs, make the audience feel as if it is eavesdropping on one afternoon in Dickinson’s life. Luce weaves together poems, letters, biography and theatrical conjecture into a tapestry that allows actresses of Fowler’s and Harris’ caliber to inhabit a three-dimensional woman.

Fowler, who is based in New York City, and John Vivian, the general manager, founded the theater last year. “The Belle of Amherst” is the second full production this summer. This season opened in July with Anton Checkov’s “The Cherry Orchard.” Next season’s shows have not yet been announced, but Vivian said the theater will operate in 2018.

The Fowler Farm is a 150-acre coastal property on the Bagaduce River, according to information on the theater’s website. It was first owned by Andrew Webber. Rear Admiral J.W. Fowler, actress Fowler’s grandfather, purchased what was known as the Mills Point Farm in 1972 from Ms. Ada Mills Tapley, who was 92.

Admiral Fowler’s son, Dr. William Fowler, designated the land forever wild when he placed it with the Castine Conservation Trust. It is now listed with the Maine Heritage Trust.

“The Bagaduce Theatre is dedicated to the Fowler family legacy,” a statement on the website says. “The public is encouraged to walk, birdwatch and generally enjoy the serenity of the property.”

Do that before or after the show, because both are stunningly beautiful.

“The Belle of Amherst” runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 1 at the Bagaduce Theatre at Fowler Farm, 176 Mills Point Road, Brooksville. For ticket information, call 801-1536 or visit bagaducetheatre.com.

 

 

 

Emily Dickinson shines through in one-woman show

By Ellen Booraem (Ellsworth American)

BROOKSVILLE — “Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” one of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poems begins. Playwright William Luce took her at her word, and since 1976 his one-woman portrait of the Amherst, Mass., recluse has shone with truth if not precise accuracy.

Julie Harris famously pioneered the role, with the advantage of actually looking like the historical Emily. Bagaduce Theatre’s Monique Fowler does not have that advantage but it doesn’t matter a hill of beans — she’s perfect for the role, her mobile face radiating joy one minute, collapsing in sorrow the next. Dickinson’s wicked humor makes her eyes dance.

“The Belle of Amherst” is the final production of the season for the Brooksville summer theater company, which has transformed a family barn into a highly competent theater for two seasons now. “Belle” continues this weekend and next, at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays.

Playwright Luce made the decision early on that other actors had no place in a play about a recluse poet.

“I decided that Emily alone should tell her story,” he writes in an author’s note, “sharing with the audience the inner drama of the poet’s consciousness in an intimate, one-to-one relationship.”

Even if one-person shows fill you with dread, you should take a chance on this one. Luce and Fowler’s Dickinson contains multitudes. The author of “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” also is capable of describing a formidable aunt as “the only male relative on the female side.”

Set in 1883, three years before Dickinson’s death at 56, the poet’s monologue moves back and forward in time, sliding effortlessly from her recipe for black cake (2 pounds each of flour and sugar, 19 eggs, spices you grind yourself) to her adolescent attempts at flirtation (not as successful as the cake) and resistance to religious fervor. She admits to being obsessed with publication, at which she also did not succeed while alive.

In some of the more delightful moments, Emily holds forth on “words to which I lift my hat when I see them sitting on a page,” griping that a fellow writer gives us “the facts but not the phosphorescence.” She admits that her white-clad eccentric recluse schtick is a bit of a joke on the neighbors. Attaching an inscrutable note to a gift of baked goods (“No bird resumes its egg”), she exults, “That’ll keep them guessing.”

Luce made the artistic decision to give his Emily slightly more of a love life than the historians do, positively identifying the mysterious “master” to whom she addressed several love letters (possibly unmailed) and giving her a couple of brushes with matrimony that haven’t entirely been confirmed. Dickinson, we suspect, would’ve loved this.

The play has tragic moments, mostly the deaths of friends and family, but also diminishing hopes, whether of love or of publication and acknowledgement. Mercurial, resilient Emily gives in for a minute or two, immobile on the sofa, then resolutely finds her feet and a nature poem.

Fowler, a veteran of Broadway and beyond, handles it all comfortably, so natural on stage that this becomes as much a visit as a theatrical production. She uses all her tools, lightening her voice to give us Emily’s childlike quality, changing tone beautifully when Emily, without warning, slides from speech to poetry and back again. We’re made to feel that delivering two hours of monologue is (sorry) a piece of cake.

“The Belle of Amherst” is at Bagaduce Theatre (the Fowler Farm, 176 Mills Point Road, Brooksville) through Oct. 1, 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Open seating tickets are $20. To reserve seats, call 801-1536 or visit www. bagaducetheatre.com.

 

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176 Mills Point Rd
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