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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: December 1, 2016

Portland panhandling issue takes center stage in ‘Anything Helps God Bless’

Written by: Bob Keyes
The cast of "Anything Helps God Bless" on location in Portland. Photo courtesy of Snowlion Repertory Company

The cast of “Anything Helps God Bless” on location in Portland. Photo courtesy of Snowlion Repertory Company

Snowlion Repertory Company tries to create theater that responds to local issues. For Maine Restaurant Week last year, it presented 12 short plays about food called “The Maine Dish.” This weekend, it’s back with a new play about median-strip panhandling in Portland called “Anything Helps God Bless.”

Snowlion presents a workshop version of the play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Portland Ballet Studio Theater on Forest Avenue.

Snowlion co-founders Margit Ahlin and Al D’Andrea co-wrote the play in response to the city of Portland’s attempt to ban median-strip panhandling and the ensuing court fight.

“We are here in Portland, and we are writers here in Portland, and we always want to relate to things happening in our community,” D’Andrea said. “This is another attempt to connect with and serve the city. For a long time, we wanted to do a play about homelessness. But that’s a broad topic, and we needed something to focus on. The ordinance gave us our story.”

The ordinance, passed by Portland City Council in 2013, prohibited people from sitting or standing in street medians. It was immediately challenged in court and never enforced. In the spring of 2014, a federal judge ruled that an ordinance banning the practice was unconstitutional, and that ruling was upheld in 2015.

“Anything Helps God Bless” rehashes the story, with a cast of 11 playing local figures int he case. Among the news makers who appear int he play are now-former City Councilor Ed Suslovic, Maine ACLU Legal Director Zachary Heiden, Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, U.S. District Judge George Singal and Preble Street Executive Director Mark Swann.

As part of its work on the play, the cast interviewed the people involved in the case, including “signers,” or panhandlers, and members of the media who covered and wrote about the story.

“We wanted our cast to get to know the people they were playing and to hear them speak about the issue directly,” Ahlin said.

To help develop the play, Snowlion received a $1,000 grant from the Maine Humanities Council’s 14th Amendment Grants program, which challenged Maine nonprofits to bring attention to the role of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which addresses citizen rights and equal protection laws.

“Anything Helps God Bless” is a full-length, two-act play. As a work in progress, it will be presented with minimal sound and lights and without a set or costumes. The actors will read from the scripts.

If this production goes well, Snowlion hopes to mount a fully staged version in the spring.

The play examines homelessness at the local and state levels and attempts to get to its emotional heart by framing the story around the people directly involved in it.

“We all go through this, we all experience it,” D’Andrea said. “Can we come together on it and find a solution?”

The play closes with a hopeful line spoken by Casey Gilbert, executive director of Portland Downtown. “Everybody cares,” Gilbert says in the play. “Everybody cares very much, and that’s why we’re having this conversation.”

Snowlion Repertory’s “Anything Helps God Bless”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10-11
WHERE: Portland Ballet Studio Theater, 517 Forest Ave., Portland
TICKETS: $10; 207-518-9305
INFO: snowlionrep.org

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