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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: March 27, 2017

Portland Stage gives a premiere to Cape Cod playwright

Written by: Bob Keyes
Playwright Brenda Withers (seated, left) and director Sally Wood watch a rehearsal for "String Around My Finger."

Playwright Brenda Withers (seated, left) and director Sally Wood watch a rehearsal for “String Around My Finger.” Photo by Aaron Flacke

Brenda Withers likes a play with a happy ending. Or even a sad one. But life usually isn’t like that. In life, our endings are happy and sad.

Withers’ new play, “String Around My Finger,” has what she calls “an ambiguous ending. I hope people are comfortable leaving the theater like that. I love a one-way ending, but I don’t experience that in my life, that feeling that this is the end of the chapter.”

The play premieres at Portland Stage next week. Previews begin Tuesday, and opening night is April 7. The play runs through April 23.

“String Around My Finger” is a comedy about Kip and Emma, a young engaged couple who face a medical crisis that reorders their life. We meet them in a hospital room, the day after Emma has suffered a miscarriage in an unexpected pregnancy. Beyond dealing with the loss of their baby, they realize Kip’s insurance won’t cover Emma’s hospital bills, and the prospect of a costly marriage makes them confront a difficult question: Are they getting married because of the kid or because they love each other?

The play is also about family — the family we’re born into and families we choose. “I wanted to write a play about a family my age going through things I might go through,” Withers said.

It’s five-character play. In addition to Kip and Emma, there’s a funny nurse, a pushy relative and the mysterious Mrs. Rizzo, played by Maine actress Lisa Stathoplos, who appeared two years ago in “Papermaker” at Portland Stage.

It’s not a political play, but it’s timely with the ethical questions that it raises about people’s right to health insurance.

Withers is an actor and playwright from Wellfleet, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, where she is associated with the Harbor Stage Company. She co-wrote and co-starred in the off-Broadway play “Matt & Ben.” She has acted on stages around the country and appeared on TV in “The Office” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”

“String Around My Finger” won last year’s Clauder Competition, a new-play contest for writers from New England, produced by Portland Stage. Three winning plays are included in the Little Festival of the Unexpected, and the grand prize winner gets mainstage treatment with a fully produced play. It also received the Edgerton Foundation New Play Award and an Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Withers has been in Portland during rehearsals, working closely with the actors and director Sally Wood. Withers met Wood during the Clauder Competition last year. They hit it off, artistically and personally. “I like her sense of humor. She’s smart, she’s sharp. I always like to play to the smartest person in the room, and Sally is that person,” Withers said.


‘STRING AROUND MY FINGER’

WHERE: Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave., Portland
WHEN: Previews at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, April 4-6; opening night 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 7, with regular performances at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to Friday; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through April 23.
TICKETS & INFO: $32 to $48; 207-774-0465 or portlandstage.org

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