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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: January 24, 2017

Maine crime novels come to life on stage

Written by: Bob Keyes
Gerry Boyle Photo courtesy of the author

Gerry Boyle
Photo courtesy of the author

When writers write, they hear voices in their heads. They imagine the scenes they create for the page playing out in real life.

On Monday, Jan 30, five Maine writers of contemporary crime fiction will watch their words unfold on stage, when Portland Stage Company hosts a staged reading of scenes from their books and short stories. The Maine Crime Writers Staged Reading begins at 7 p.m., with Portland actors interpreting scenes written by Gerry Boyle, Brenda Buchanan, Paul Doiron, Chris Holm and Julia Spencer-Fleming.

“I have audio books where somebody else is reading my words, but I am really looking forward to having actors of great skill read those words,” Boyle said. “It will bring it to life in a way that’s different than the way it goes on in my head when I write it. I hear the voices when I write the words, but it’s going to be interesting to see what they hear when they read those words.”

The actors will read a scene from Boyle’s book “Straw Man,” the latest in his series of Jack McMorrow mysteries that feature an ex-newspaper reporter as the hard-luck protagonist. In the scene that Boyle gave the actors to stage, McMorrow returns home after being beaten by loggers. He’s cut up, his eye is swollen shut and his first aid involves a can of cold beer to help reduce the swelling.

Other scenes are from Buchanan’s “Quick Pivot,” Doiron’s “The Poacher’s Son,” Holm’s short story “Eight Pounds” and Spencer-Fleming’s “One Was a Soldier.” Each will last about 10 minutes.

The reading coincides with the Portland Stage production of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” a black comedy that involves a lot of murder. It opens this week and runs through Feb. 19.

Bess Welden Photo courtesy of Portland Stage

Bess Welden
Photo courtesy of Portland Stage

The readings will take place on stage, with the actors giving their dramatic touch to the words without sets or costumes. They may sit or stand, and will interpret the words with minimal stage movements.

Doiron attended a staged reading last year of Portland writer Monica Wood’s new book, “The One-in-a-Million Boy.” He enjoyed it, and thought it would be fun if one of his books were interpreted for the stage. “I was so envious sitting in the audience watching actors perform her work. I thought, ‘If I ever get that opportunity ….'”

He credits Portland Stage for reaching out to writers who aren’t playwrights. “I have never written a play, but I go to plays. It feels like a nice way for them to include writers who are not normally thought of as having work for the stage,” he said.

Ross Cowan Photo courtesy of Portland Stage

Ross Cowan
Photo courtesy of Portland Stage

Nine actors, including several Portland Stage regulars, will portray the work: Hannah Cordes, Courtney Cook, Ross Cowan, Christopher Davis, Elizabeth Freeman, Andrew Harris, Whip Hubley, Daniel Noel and Bess Welden. Eileen Phelan, the theater’s communications director, will direct the staged reading.

Buchanan, a Portland lawyer, is accustomed to reading her own work. Like the other writers, she’s eager to hear how professional actors handle her words. “When I am doing a reading, I know the rhythm of the story. I know where I would pause for emphasis and effect. It will be interesting to see how someone else interprets it and how the audience reacts to it,” she said. “These are trained actors. There are no sets or costumes, but they cannot read a scene without bringing all their dramatic effects.”

Holm, whose book “The Killing Kind” was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice and won the 2016 Anthony Award for Best Novel, said it’s every writer’s dream to see a book adapted for movies. But the stage is something else. “I’ve never even thought about writing for theater. This is going to be fun,” he said.

Following the readings, the writers will join the actors on stage to talk about their work and the experience.

MAINE CRIME WRITERS STAGED READING

WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday, reception at 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave., Portland
ADMISSION: Pay what you can
INFO: portlandstage.org

 

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