Virtual comedy “Do Not Move Stones” to debut



Editor’s Note: Portland Press Herald writer Bob Keyes wrote the following excerpted from his longer Sept. 26 story about young Maine artists who have sought refuge from the COVID-19 pandemic and produced innovative works while in their home state. To read the full story, click on the link: https://www.pressherald.com/2021/09/26/artists-sought-refuge-from-pandemic-by-returning-to-maine-and-found-opportunity/.

DEER ISLE — Marvin Merritt IV had big dreams and big ideas when he graduated from Harvard University last year. They did not involve Deer Isle.

“I was intending to head to New York or L.A. or Germany, and I was going to either do experimental theater in Berlin or vie for Broadway in New York or film work in L.A.,” said the 2016 graduate of Deer Isle-Stonington High School.

Morgan Witham (from left) has the role of Thyona while Ann Fitzgerald is Olympia in Isle Theater Company’s online production of “Do Not Move Stones.” Ruva Chigwedere is Sappho (farthest back) and Aislinn Brophy plays Lydia in the performance staged in Stonington’s Settlement Quarry. ISLE THEATER COMPANY PHOTO

Instead, Merritt, 23, has spent the pandemic producing theater back home, and this past August he and his creative partner, fellow Harvard graduate Anna Fitzgerald, drew 1,000 people to three performances of their original play “Do Not Move Stones,” a retelling of an Aeschylus play, “The Suppliants.” They staged it at Stonington’s Settlement Quarry, and considered the effort successful enough that they have formalized their partnership and formed the ISLE Theater Company with a goal of producing at least two shows a year.

Berlin will have to wait.

Merritt, who called the circumstances “an odd blessing of COVID,” is part of a wave of artists who have come home to Maine during the pandemic, their creative lives and routines uprooted and enriched by the unplanned opportunity to reconnect with their original roots and muses. They are actors, filmmakers, comedians and painters. Some, maybe most, will return to their adopted homes when the pandemic eases to resume a semblance of their former lives and careers, but all sought the refuge of Maine and the comforts of home and community when the pandemic disrupted their lives and dreams.

Some may stay, or at least come around a lot more often.

“To have the opportunity to unite the community through storytelling, that is so exciting and meaningful,” Merritt said last month. “It energizes me and has definitely made me realize I can continue to create theater in Maine. I don’t have to wait.”

When artists come home, they bring with them the knowledge and experiences they have gained to share with their communities through the art they create, said Stuart Kestenbaum, Maine’s former poet laureate and a Deer Isle resident, who attended a performance of “Do Not Move Stones” at the quarry with about 250 other people. He called it “a smart, energetic production” that made good use of the space.

“You want people to go away so they can become who they need to be, but then return home and find a way to make art in their own hometown. I find that idea so moving,” said Kestenbaum, who watched Merritt develop his acting skills at the Reach Performing Arts Center and Stonington Opera House while growing up on Deer Isle. “Then he goes away, investigates the world and returns home committed to making art in his own town. That is the kind of cycle you want everywhere in Maine — not to have your young people never go away, but to return and be informed by all they have seen.”

Because of the pandemic, the cycle is repeating itself.

After the success of “Do Not Move Stones,” ISLE Theater Company is producing a digital version of the play in which 50 sisters flee forced marriages and are seeking asylum. Unknowingly aided by the poet Sappho, the women fetch up on a Maine island, where their hasty escape goes awry. The digital production is due to debut at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23. The virtual event is free and the show will be available on demand Oct. 24-Nov. 13. To attend the free premiere, register at isletheater.org/registration.

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