Soon after they moved to Maine in 2011, Margit Ahlin and Al D’Andrea began driving across the state seeking hand-cancellations of a commemorative Winslow Homer stamps from each post office in the state. The theater artists were interested in Homer and stamps, but their larger interest was getting to know their new home.
The post office is the center of most rural communities. If they visited every post office in Maine, they figured they’d have a pretty good lay of the land. Their journey continues. Ahlin and D’Andrea, who operate Snowlion Repertory Company, haven’t hit each of the 400-plus post offices in Maine, but they’ve been to most of them. Along the way, they’ve developed a deeper appreciation of their adopted home state.
That knowledge served them well as they adapted Anton Chekhov’s classic comic-drama “The Cherry Orchard” to a Maine setting. “A Cherry Orchard in Maine” opens Friday and runs through April 29 at the Portland Ballet Studio Theater on Forest Avenue.
Ahlin adapted the play for Maine using her pseudonym, MK Wolfe, based on the translation by Ronald Meyer. Ahlin and D’Andrea, the director, set their play on an orchard in an unnamed town in Knox County, not too far from the coast. The characters, script and action follow Chekhov’s original. They changed the names and settings and some of the nuance of the language to make it feel like Maine.
“As we began exploring this idea, we realized that people in Maine were in a very similar circumstance as the characters in Chekhov’s play. The settings are similar and the themes are familiar,” D’Andrea said. “It was a perfect match.”
The play tells the story of a wealthy landowner who comes home to her family’s orchard just as it’s about to be auctioned. She ignores efforts to save the estate, and allows the sale of land. The story explores socio-economic forces that lead to changes in society.
In this Maine re-telling, Snowlion emphasizes issues of gentrification, shifting family dynamics, progressive politics and the clash between old and new money, values and ways of living.
Although the setting for the Maine play is not named, Ahlin and D’Andrea used Union as a model. It’s a rural community that is inland just far enough to still maintain its independent character, but close enough to the coast and tony communities like Camden to feel tensions associated with rising property values and shifting social priorities. In Union and other towns like it across Maine, the friction between the old ways and new ways is very real, Ahlin said, as is the pressure on long-time landowners to sell.
“Everyone has to move on by the end of the play,” she said. “Some do it willingly, others try to resist. Something is lost and something is gained. But the question is, what is lost and what is gained, and how do we grapple with the loss and find a way to move forward?”
“A Cherry Orchard in Maine” closes a Snowlion season dedicated to plays about Maine. “Anything Helps God Bless” about Portland’s median panhandling controversy opened the season and was followed by “The Conquest of the South Pole,” a German play that Snowlion set in Rumford about four unemployed mill workers.
WHERE: Portland Ballet Studio Theater, 517 Forest Ave.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. April 26-28, 2 p.m. April 29
HOW MUCH: $20
INFO: 518-9305, snowlionrep.org