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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: May 1, 2017

Footlights presents a play about enduring love, whether it’s in the closet or out

Written by: Bob Keyes
The cast of "Cloudburst" includes, seated, from left, Gwyneth Jones Nicholson and Rachel Flehinger; standing, Andrea Myles-Hunkin, Jake Hammond, Robert Nixon and Jessie Raspbury. Photo courtesy of Footlights Theatre

The cast of “Cloudburst” includes, seated, from left, Gwyneth Jones Nicholson and Rachel Flehinger; standing, Andrea Myles-Hunkin, Jake Hammond, Robert Nixon and Jessie Raspbury.
Photo courtesy of Footlights Theatre

Footlights Theatre in Falmouth stages the U.S. premiere of “Cloudburst,” a Canadian play that’s partially set in Maine about an older lesbian couple who hightail it to Nova Scotia to get married when a well-meaning but misguided granddaughter moves one of them into a nursing home.

Written by American-Canadian playwright Thom Fitzgerald, the play debuted in April 2010 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was adapted into a film starring Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Frickler in 2011. The film, which Fitzgerald also wrote and directed, has won dozens of awards, including many best-picture awards at film festivals across the United States and Canada and around the world.

The play opens Thursday, May 4, and continues through May 20. After pausing for Memorial Day weekend, Footlights will resume the show in June to coincide with Portland Pride activities.

Michael Tobin, executive artistic director at Footlights, said he hounded Fitzgerald on Facebook for the rights to be the first U.S. theater company to produce the play. “Thank god for Facebook,” Tobin said. “When I finally got a hold of him, he said, ‘Yes.’ He was hoping to bring it to the United States eventually.”

Thom Fitzgerald Photo by Shaun Simpson

Thom Fitzgerald
Photo by Shaun Simpson

Fitzgerald said he was waiting for the right opportunity for the U.S. premiere. The movie finished a three-year run on Neflix recently, and prior to that, Fitzgerald was reluctant to put the play on stages while the movie was still widely available. The timing is better now, and Maine is the right place for the U.S. premiere, he said in an email. “Michael Tobin of Footlights was charming and enthusiastic and he convinced me it was a good idea.” Fitzgerald wrote. “I’m happy the play is being produced in Maine, where it’s partly set. It’s actually a great way to reintroduce the play to the stage.”

Tobin heard about the movie through a friend. “I fell in love with it,” he said. “It was laughter through tears.”

It’s a dramatic comedy with a heart-warming spirit, Tobin said. Stella and Dotty have been together 31 years, partners in all senses of the word. They are in their 70s now, and Stella is hard of hearing and Dotty is legally blind. Dotty’s granddaughter, fearing for her grandmother’s long-term health and refusing to accept her grandmother’s committed relationship with Stella, moves Dotty into a nursing home. Stella kidnaps her, and they flee to Canada to get married.

The play is set before same-sex marriage became legal in Maine.

Along the way, they pick up free-spirited Prentice, a hitchhiker, who is trying to get to Nova Scotia to visit his dying mother.

“Prentice becomes a big part of their life. They teach him a lot about life and life’s ups and downs,” Tobin said. “The story has a beautiful arc. It’s very sad at times, but it’s definitely a laugh-out-loud comedy.”

The drama occurs in the conflict between Dotty and her granddaughter. The granddaughter doesn’t realize that Stella and Dotty are a couple. It’s something they have never really vocalized. “The granddaughter just thinks that Stella cannot take care of her grandmother anymore. She is not being malicious, she is just being concerned,” Tobin said. “But when she finds out they are a couple, she doesn’t believe it. She literally rips these two women apart.”

The first half of the play is set in Maine, until the women begin their trek north and east to Nova Scotia. Because Dotty is blind, Stella describes the Maine coastline as they travel.

While the play centers on a lesbian relationship and explores issues of coming out and gay marriage, Tobin hesitates to call it “a gay play. It’s a universal story about long-term relationships and the real meaning of family and love.”

Fitzgerald thinks the movie and play are popular because many people can relate to the dilemma and difficult choices the women face. “Everyone has had to fight to keep their family together at some point. It’s also a good laugh. A lot of folks get a kick out of old ladies telling dirty jokes,” he said.

Fitzgerald toured the world with the movie. He usually gets tired of watching his own films, “but with ‘Cloudburst’ I could watch the audience laugh and root for the characters, so I never tired of it. I suspect it’s also really refreshing for people to see senior women in romantic leads. In this world, we have a lot of older actresses at the height of their craft and skill, yet not a lot of opportunity to see them in the starring roles.”

Fitzgerald grew up in New York and New Jersey, and has lived in Nova Scotia nearly 30 years. He knows Maine well, and may attend a show during the Footlights run. “I’m scheduled to be working on a new movie, but I’ll try and get away. Any excuse to be in Maine is a good excuse,” he said.

“Cloudburst” is the final show of Footlights’ fourth season. The company presents its shows in a 75-seat theater in Falmouth, just over the Portland line on Route 1.

“Cloudburst”

WHERE: Footlights Theatre, 190 Route 1, Falmouth
WHEN: Opens Thursday, through May 20, with performances at 7 p.m. Thursdays, 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 7 p.m. June 6-8 and June 13-15, as part of Portland Pride
TICKETS & INFO: $18 adults, $15 seniors; pay-what-you-can on Thursdays; thefootlightsinfalmouth.com, 747-5434

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