The poet died on April 23, 1616. Seven years later, William Shakespeare’s best friends walked into a London printer’s shop, laden with every page and every word they could find from their friend’s plays and asked – begged – the printer to publish them.
Playwright Kevin O’Leary imagines the conversation going something like this: “Can you take this pile of stuff and please make it into something pretty?” The scene comes to life in O’Leary’s new play, “The Roles of a Lifetime,” presented by Luminous Productions.
It opens Thursday and runs through Nov. 13 at the Portland Ballet Studio Theater at 517 Forest Ave.
The play asks the question: Where would we be without Shakespeare? What if his friends and loyal actors John Heminge and Henry Condell hadn’t rounded up the scripts and convinced the London printer Edward Blount to publish them?
Their efforts resulted in a book we know today as the First Folio, which includes 37 Shakespeare plays and several of his best known. Several dozen copies of the First Folio are still around today, and one of them came to the Portland Public Library this past March. O’Leary went to the library to see the book with actor J.P. Guimont, who stars in the play as Condell. The rest of the cast includes Rob Cameron as Heminge and Corey Gagne as the printer Blount.
O’Leary, who lives in Portland and teaches theater at Morse High School in Bath, considers Heminge and Condell heroic. “Might we have known of William Shakespeare without these two? Possibly. But we also know that 37 of his plays had never been published and might not have been published without these guys.” Those plays included many of what would become Shakespeare’s greatest hits: “King Lear,” “Hamlet” and “Othello” among them.
“The Roles of a Lifetime” is a one-act play with a runtime of about 75 minutes, and it takes place entirely in the printer’s office on a hot August morning.
Ultimately, it’s a play about friendship and the motivations of the two actors. Heminge is spurred into action by money. He wants to cash in. Condell is passionate about Shakespeare and wants to ensure that his friend is remembered for his art.
Luminous Productions had intended to present this play earlier in the year, but those plans were delayed when Guimont suffered a stroke in July. When O’Leary visited him in the hospital, he promised Guimont that the role was still his if he wanted it, and he would wait to stage the play until Guimont was ready to return to acting. Three months later, Guimont pronounced himself ready for the challenge.
“It’s quite a courageous comeback,” O’Leary said.
WHEN: Opens Thursday and continues through Nov. 13; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Portland Ballet Studio Theater, 517 Forest Ave., Portland
TICKETS & INFO: $10; 207-831-2434 or kevinoleary.ticketleap.com