Spose makes entire album in one day

Hot off the heels of well-received full-length album Good Luck With Your Life released last spring, Wells rapper Spose set out to accomplish a milestone as impressive as it is absurd. With the help of dozens of esteemed Maine musicians, Spose wrote and recorded a full-length album in one day.

Titled Humans and recorded by Jonathan Wyman at The Halo Studio, the album features contributes from several artists in the Maine rap scene, including Cam Groves, Sarah Violette, DJ Rew, and Jay Caron, as well as musicians like Kyle Gervais (KGFREEZE), Dave Gutter (The Rustic Overtones) Dominic Lavoie (Dominic and the Lucid), producer God.Damn.Chan and more. 

In photos posted on the artist's website, Spose decorated the studio with posters declaring "rules" for the session, including "Good Vibes Only," "The Only Bad Idea is No Idea," "Don't Overthink It," and "No Stragglers: If You're Not Playin', You're Not Stayin'." As chronicled on his social media channels and in a story by the Press Herald, Spose broke artists and musicians up into smaller working groups and delegate prompts and song ideas for them while he wrote and recorded verses elsewhere.  

Spose streamed some of the process on his Facebook and Instagram page earlier this week, and the 10-song, 42-minute album was released on iTunes and Spotify. 

Portland readies 1st Annual Iranian Film Festival

Portland readies 1st Annual Iranian Film Festival

Students from the University of Southern Maine’s Honors program “Cinema in Iran” course, along with instructor Reza Jalali, will present the 2017 Iranian Film Festival — a first of its kind in Maine — in Portland beginning on October 20.

 

Ten feature films made by Iranian directors, including women, will be screened at the University of Southern Maine’s Wishcamper Center on Friday evenings between October 20 and November 17 (November 10 screenings will take place at Maine College of Art). Each evening will feature screenings of two different films — one at 5:30pm and one at 5:45pm. The screenings are free and open to the public. Post-screening discussions and Q&A sessions will be facilitated by USM students and Professor Jalali.

 

“Contemporary Iranian films have won the hearts of many film buffs in the U.S. for their powerful social and political examination of the post-Islamic Revolution Iranian society,” Professor Jalali said. “Iranian cinema, in the absence of a free press in Iran, has come to provide social critique of a society torn between modernity and tradition, and secular and religious thoughts and values. The festival will present the community with a rare opportunity to learn about a nation, with the help of its cinema, which has been dehumanized in the U.S. since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.”

 

As part of USM’s year-long Gloria S. Duclos Convocation on the theme of “Race and Participatory Democracy,” the film festival is intended to encourage respectful and inclusive community conversations on the critical and timely issue of the intersectionality of race and democracy.

 

“Cinema can help us to see the humanity in those we presume to be our enemies,” Jalali said.

 

Sponsored by USM Convocation, the festival’s co-sponsors include the USM Honors Program, the USM Women and Gender Studies program, the Honors Student Organization at USM and Maine College of Art.

 

October 20, USM Portland campus
 
Against the tumultuous backdrop of Iran's 1953 CIA-backed coup d'état, the destinies of four women converge in a beautiful orchard garden, where they find independence, solace and companionship.

 

Various women struggle to function in the oppressively sexist society of contemporary Iran.

 

October 27, USM Portland campus
 
The mysterious disappearance of a kindergarten teacher during a picnic in the north of Iran is followed by a series of misadventures for her fellow travelers.

 

A visual social examination in the form of ten conversations between a driving woman and her various pick-ups and hitchhikers.

 

November 3, USM Portland campus
 
An official is sent from his home in Tehran to hear the final appeal of a woman sentenced to death, a political prisoner. The official's wife of nearly 20 years, Fereshteh Samimi, writes him a letter to read when he reaches the hotel - the story of her student days during the revolution of 1978. As she tells her husband about the hidden half of her life, Fereshteh asks that he listen to the woman facing execution, a woman and therefore one of Iran's hidden half.

 

Not being able to work because of the religious country's prejudice against music, a talented Santour player has to deal with poverty, addiction and the absence of his ex-wife.

 

November 10, Maine College of Art
 
Iranian musicians Negar and Ashkan look for band members to play at a London concert - and the visas that allow them to leave Tehran to do so.

 

A semi-autobiographical account of Makmahlbaf's experience as a teenager when, as a 17-year-old, he stabbed a policeman at a protest rally. Two decades later, he tracks down the policeman he injured in an attempt to make amends.

 

November 17, USM Portland campus
 
When an ostrich-rancher focuses on replacing his daughter's hearing aid, which breaks right before crucial exams, everything changes for a struggling rural family in Iran. Karim motorbikes into a world alien to him - incredibly hectic Tehran, where sudden opportunities for independence, thrill and challenge him. But his honor and honesty, plus traditional authority over his inventive clan, are tested, as he stumbles among vast cultural and economic gaps between his village nestled in the desert, and a throbbing international metropolis.

5:45pm“Marooned in Iraq” directed by Bahman Ghobadi, Wishcamper 211

During the war between Iran and Iraq, a group of Iranian Kurd musicians set off on an almost impossible mission. They will try to find Hanareh, a singer with a magic voice who crossed the border and may now be in danger in the Iraqi Kurdistan. As in his previous films, this Kurdish director is again focusing on the oppression of his people.

 

 

Setting the bar low (and leaping) — TheWorst drops trashy, exhilarating 'Jane Doe Embryo'

It’s no slight to the three musicians of Portland rock band TheWorst, each totally capable and believably spirited with decades-long CVs making independent music, but we live in an era where stripped-down, mid-tempo fuzzed-out grungepunk holds very little purchase. (The name they’ve chosen suggests they understand this.) In 2017, it's a musical style as poached-in-history as Sinatra standards were when these musicians were young. Honestly, this makes their debut even more interesting.

Whatever kind of music you profess to enjoy, the reason to check in on this raw, sonically charged band is nearly entirely Brooke Binion, the singer, songwriter, and guitarist behind TheWorst's ninesong, 29-minute debut album Jane Doe Embryo. Odds are she'll recall the fierce frontpersons of your own high school CD towers or college dorm posters, but Binion is no copycat. She pours her heart out through this album of trashy, uncomplicated rock songs. It's a rickety old vehicle, but she sure as hell knows how to drive it.

Music like this is naturally associated with adolescence. But a significant reason for that is because young people haven't been hardened into work-aday stiffs, lost the ability to express themselves or be vulnerable, or relinquished the instinct to put themselves in risky and exciting situations. With Binion steering these songs, every moment of Jane Doe Embryo feels alive, in a way that can and should remind people of adolescence. And while that can at times feel constricted by a music that can feel, by this point in history, quite dead and lacking in new ideas, her vivacity is only sharper in its relief.

Binion screams, hollers, croons, shrieks, and shreds her way through these angsty, confessional, emotionally charged songs. Lyrically, she squares off against depression and drug addiction, gender injustice and political fatigue, while somehow, through some artfully managed affect, shielding her audience from shouldering the weight of her stories. It may scream adolescence, but Binion’s a full-grown adult with years of experience and reflection, and that makes an enormous difference.

Probably wisely, TheWorst resist playing anything super fast or slow. There are no d-beat burners, no ballads, but there are surprises. "Backwash," an album single of sorts, leverages harmonic guitar notes and feedback into a weirdly catchy vocal melody and lumbering-heavy chorus. "Vices" starts off in a deep fuzz before stumbling its way into a serious melodic pay-off. Here and elsewhere, we hear Binion spinning fraught, vulnerable lines into memorable anthems and sing-along lyrics, a sort of recurring personal catharsis that's unmistakably fuel for the whole ride.

I'm making this sound like it's a hard listen. It's not. The song "Like Vaseline" is a well-penned, smartly melodic rock song. Like most of Jane Doe Embryo, it's hard around the edges, but the vocals are catchy and high in the mix, as Boston engineer Will Holland (Pixies, Rhett Butler, Fall Out Boy) smartly recognizes that she'll hold his brightest lights. And it's a full performance. Her guitar work is equally good impressive. Envision a slightly more jaded Weakened Friends. Or a less jaded L7.

Every time Jane Doe feels like it's dragging, largely due to minimal variation in the songs' tempos, Holland captures some noteworthy idiosyncrasy of Binion's and we're back. "Suburb Schizophrenia" would suffer from the cookie-cutter chord progression of its verses, but its atypical chorus restores interest, prodded along by Brooke's off-kilter, intuitive phrasing toward the end. The rhythm section ending standout "Vices" bounces along like a sort of bar-rock track even as Binion's post-lyrical guitar shredding, like something outta Screaming Females, tears holes through the song's fabric.

I don't know how this translates outside of the studio, where sonic trickery is harder to pull off in real time. But put aside trends and infatuations with genre, and a rock 'n' roll performance is little more than a display of someone showing up live. In that case, Binion's the one to do it.

TheWorst | Jane Doe Embryo album release | with The Silks + Cape Cannons + Lyokha | Friday, Oct 20, 8 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | $8 | www.theworst207.com 

8 Days a Week: The Undead, The Timeless, and the Stone Aged

THURSDAY 19

HUMBLE BOWS | Some say the world has already been built, that its great artists have already sung their songs, its coliseums hosted their finest battles, and that we're just here to interpret and rearrange the existing cultural vocabulary into affinity groups. That's horseshit, of course. But the tradition of singing tributes to the world's favorite artists is unflappable, in Portland as it is anywhere, and tonight, several noteworthy Portland musicians and singers abandon their original works to sing in celebration of Florence and The Machine, the English indie-pop band led by the soaring vocals of Florence Welch. This evening re-ignites Empire's "Tribute To" series. In a couple weeks, Third Eye Blind gets the treatment. | 9 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | $10 | www.portlandempire.com 

FRIDAY 20

NICENESSES | A masquerade birthday party fused with a Halloween show, tonight's hang at Urban Farm Fermentory should suss out some chill vibes. Several musical warlocks have convened to spawn two new bands — Nice Life and Backyard Posse — from labors otherwise given to groups like 300 Calories, KGFREEZE, An Anderson, Ossalot, and Tall Horse. So that's cool. And the pop-punk group Crunchcoat, featuring Jason Unterreiner of the once-fun yet now-extinct early aughties group Wood Burning Cat, join up too. Join this society of friends and their fertile creativity in these early days of Urban Farm Fermentory locking down a spot on the Portland rock venue circuit. | 8 pm | Urban Farm Fermentory, 200 Anderson St., Portland | $5

 

RESURRECTORS | We wanna say Murcielago broke up (well, we don't wanna say it, but we wanna confirm that that's what we've heard from them, a/k/a that it's true). But the Portland hard rock foursome have reunited again, if only for tonight, joining meat-core forebears Scissorfight and Roadsaw for a powerful night of rock action. From New Hampshire, Scissorfight have been grinding out powerful riff-rock for decades, while Roadsaw first laid their groove-metal to tape along with Boston contemporaries like Fu Manchu and Ass Tractor back in '97. The people who like this stuff don't seem to stop liking it, or get enough of it, a sustained, weatherproof form of listenership that could be considered a kind of skill. Unique about seeing them in 2017 is that it's cheaper than it used to be, relatively speaking. Tonight's show costs more or less the price of a beer. | 8 pm | Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland | $8-10 | www.portcitymusichall.com 

 

THE SCRAWL | Check page 14 for this writer's review of TheWorst's debut album Jane Doe Embryo, a burst of cathartic rock songs written and performed by SeepeopleS bassist Brooke Binion. A trash-rock trio buoyed by Binion's electric musical character, TheWorst play a long-anticipated record release party tonight with the indie-blues triad The Silks, Portland's emotive rock group Cape Cannons, and posthuman electronic fetishists Lyokha| 9 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | $8 | www.portlandempire.com 

 

STEAMERS | The big band jazz squad known as the Fogcutters steam up the joint at Portland House of Music tonight, pulling from a broad range of jazz standards and pop nods. They tend to come alive in the holiday season, and their "Fogtober Bash" might serve as the city's official start of Halloween. With the melodic pop of OC and the Offbeats. | 8 pm | Portland House of Music, 25 Temple St., Portland | www.portlandhouseofmusic.com 

 

SATURDAY 21

WATCHING | One band this city is blessed to not understand how to appreciate is Video Nasties, the bewitching post-punk no wave group that seemingly levitated out of the unreconstructed media heaps at Strange Maine several years ago. The mysterious group collaged their demos onto a 12" album earlier in the year, and many of those songs should expect to be busted out tonight at The Apohadion Theater, where the Nasty Boys design to ensorcell the crowd. They've got help from upstate country bumpkin Caethua (performing as Clay and the County Line Bandits, possibly solo), punk duo the Tarantula Brothers and Broken Generator. | 8 pm | The Apohadion Theater, 107 Hanover St., Portland | $8 

 

BARNSTORMIN' | A bold late-summer festival gambit should pay off weatherwise today. The Dead Gowns Art Collective, a somewhat shadowy underground event production squad that professes to "embrace multiplicity," put on 'Stead Fest 2017, a homesteadin'-themed urban barn party featuring what looks to be a whole lotta alt-folk and smart, funny people. In common parlance, a good time. Hear the acoustic songwriter Fiona Robins along with shimmering neo-Americana quartet Wildflower and more, while folks like Micaela Tepler, Connor McGrath, Katie Ferreira, and Perry Winks perform comedy sets. They boast the inclusion of taps, too, which we support even if we don't know the brand. Supportable work here. | 2-9 pm | Herb'n Homestead, 16 Cherry St, Portland | $5-10 | www.deadgowns.com

 

EVERYONE KNOWS YR NAME | As the chill closes in, it's crucial to establish some footing at a local pub. If you like the hill folk, consider making the same choice as the affable and talented Portland musician John Nels (of the band Rigor Samsa), who plays a set of originals and covers at quaintly dive-y Munjoy Hill Tavern this evening, for friends new, old, and spiritual. | 7 pm | Munjoy Hill Tavern, 189 Congress St., Portland

 

GAME FACE | Putting aside the necessary conversation about health care in this country (and the weirdly cruel aversion its political agents have to ensuring its citizens have it), Goodwill Industries of Northern New England have launched something called the Workforce Fund, which endeavors to help "lift people out of poverty and into personal stability," filling in the gaps to assist working-class people clear the barriers they face while looking for work. Their effort is holistic, laudable, and one to support, and all donations toward tonight's Ghoulwill Ball, a rather majestic-looking costume and masquerade party, are its benefit. With universal, funk-forward dance sounds supplied by Motor Booty Affair. | 7 pm | Portland Club, 142 State St., Portland | $15 | www.goodwillnne.org   

 

FORGOTTEN WORLD | The most "old-Portland" show we were able to find this week, doom band OGRE, who made their mark in the '90s, team up with '80s Maine punk icons Big Meat Hammer, who took a cue from G.G. Allin and ran with it for decades. Plus Nuclear Bootz, who belong on a different plane of time and space. | 9 pm | Geno's Rock Club, 625 Congress St, Portland | $7

 

SUNDAY 22

KNIFE DEBT | Pumpkin-carving feels mostly good, people have found. Pumpkins are already humorous, oddly shaped and colored, so that helps. And then you stick a knife into them — one of the only non-deadly, non-carnivorous uses of a knife in the American holidays — and that also provides benefits. You gain access to pumpkin seeds, which contain necessary proteins, and contort your already odd-looking gourd into unique visages, appearing either dumb or "haunted" (also dumb). Why do this alone??? No need is what we're getting at. Today's third annual Pumpkins in the Square hosts mass carvings alongside live bluegrass by Shanna Underwood and the Wanderlost, plus hot cider and doughnuts from HiFi Donuts, all of it seasonally harmonious. | 1 pm | Congress Square Park, Congress and High Streets, Portland | FREE | www.congresssquarepark.org  

 

YOU'RE NOT IN AMIGO'S ANYMORE | Queens of the Stone Age, m'dude! Remember back before Songs for the Deaf in 2002 when Dave Grohl was like Hey America, y'all listen to QOTSA? and the whole country was like hmmm, go on? (Remember when people took cultural cues from Dave Grohl?) Now, the desert-rock band fronted by once-Kyuss player Josh Homme is a household name. The whole city of Portland has been frothing at the mouth for this one. It's been sold out for weeks. So if you want to hear songs from Queens' new album Villains, you should either have a ticket by now or head to Bull Moose.  | 8 pm | State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland | SOLD OUT | www.statetheatreportland.com 

 

SINK YR TEETH | Beyond QOTSA and tonight's Sinkane show at SPACE Gallery, what else could music possibly offer you? The eclectic global pop fusion of Ahmed Gallab's Sinkane project has lit up SPACE's floors several times before, blurring free jazz, percussion music, and indie-shoegaze into a super palatable stew. He's still touring the lovely 2017 release Life & Livin' It, worth listens. All ages. | 8 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | $12-15 | www.space538.org 

 

MONDAY 23

DANCE BEGINS HERE | The movement group The Living Room readies a recurring dance class "honoring their deep femme and queer idols," practicing a fun, silly, inclusive, and safe set of proprioception modalities in their South Portland space. They encourage folks to bring a piece of media — a book, a screenshot, a song — to share with the group as a touchstone for tonight's practice, which they're calling SPELL (South Portland Experimental Language League). They can be trusted to hold an "all bodies welcome" sort of space, both environmentally and as a basic modus operandi. | 5:30-6:30 pm | Living Room, 408 Broadway, South Portland | $8-16 donation | www.thelivingroomdance.com 


TUESDAY 24

AGAIN IN SONG | One of the more magical songwriters to emerge from Maine the last few years, it's only natural that Lina Tullgren now lives roundabout Boston. Her most recent appearance at last month's Waking Windows might've gotten overshadowed by the several dozen other awesome acts playing in town at roughly the same hour (FOMO being the mark of a solid festival), but tonight, a Tuesday, she headlines an evening with like-hearted songwriter Lisa/Liza along with Health and Beauty in Bayside. | 8 pm | The Apohadion Theater, 107 Hanover St., Portland | $10 

 

WEDNESDAY 25

TOPICAL LESSONS | As horrifying stories emerge about the sustained, systematic sexual abuse perpetrated by motion picture producer Harvey Weinstein (and the vast cohort of enablers throughout the industry) over the last two weeks, it's a good time to reassess the culture of masculinity. Tonight, the organization Maine Boys to Men helps produce a screening of The Mask You Live In, which follows a group of young men attempt to navigate the often unworkable definitions of masculinity they inherit from previous generations. The film covers how this generation of boys are more likely to encounter mental health problems, drop out of school, binge drink, and that sort of thing, but a wider, holistic view factors the threat of similar sorts of toxic masculinity to what pervades the news today, which is often subtly embedded in this country's definition of how to be a man. | 5:30 pm | University of New England School of Social Work, WCHP Lecture Hall, 716 Stevens Ave., Portland | Free

 

COLLABORATION HUB | Three gifted poets convene at Longfellow Books to share their work tonight. The Chicago-based Rebecca Morgan Frank has won scads of awards for her work, the most recent of it appearing in a volume titled Sometimes We're All Living in a Foreign Country. She's joined by Portland's Megan Grumbling, winner of the 2017 Maine Book Award For Poetry who published the excellent volume Booker's Point last year (and who's been a Phoenix theater and film critic since last decade), as well as Rosa Lane, a native of a coastal Maine fishing village who splits her time between South Portland and San Francisco. | 7 pm | Longfellow Books, 5 Monument Way., Portland | Free | www.longfellowbooks.com 

 

JUSTICE-BASED | If Francis Flisiuk's cover story about the rent stabilization debate swayed you in favor of the renters, then you might help join those trying to boost their campaign coffers up from the fractional amount of what the landlord-heavy opposition group is spending. In an evening titled "Rock for Fair Rent," the eclectic artist Nat Baldwin joins folk duo Snaex and noise-rock group Purse. | 7:30 pm | The Apohadion Theater, 107 Hanover St., Portland | $10-20 

 

THURSDAY 26

AROUND THE CORNER | Next Thursday, you might join dozens of zombies in an effort to re-create Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. Why not?

Liquid Gold — Lemon beers to treasure

I'm still sipping beers that use fruits, berries and other adjuncts to achieve unusual flavors. This week, we'll try a few beers that incorporate the most familiar of the citrus fruits – the lemon! Much of the characteristic flavor of the lemon is due to the citric acid it contains, giving it a sour, biting flavor. Lemons also contain a significant quantity of vitamin C, and the peels are rich in essential oils that carry the majority of the fresh aroma of the lemon. Beers that incorporate lemon flavor tend to be quenching and refreshing. Their bright acidity pairs well with seafood, chicken, or just a nice hot day. Cheers!

 

Eviltwin Brewing Old Fashioned IPA
Format Sampled: 12 oz can

ABV: 7%

Availability: Purchased at Rosemont Market and bakery

Tasting Notes: Pours a cloudy greenish yellow with a skimpy white head. Aroma is comprehensively lemony, with hints of asphalt and dank, sticky hops. The initial flavor is filled with mouth-puckering, sour lemon. The taste sets off memories of sour lemon candies, glasses of lemonade on the porch, and gummy lemon wedge candies dipped in sugar. There are hints of bitter, bracing hops under the acid/sweet fusion of the lemonade. Swirled in with simple, white-sugar burn, is a hint a darker, more complex malt sweetness. This is an artful fusion of an IPA and a lemonade. So much more than a shandy, it brings a bright lemony ray of sunshine to a cool, rainy night.

 

Great Divide Brewing Company Nadia Kali Hibiscus Saison

Format Sampled: 12 oz can

ABV: 6.3%
Availability: Purchased at RSVP

Tasting Notes: Pours a rich, reddish amber with a moderate head of tan foam. Aroma is fresh and spicy with clove, lemon peel, and caramel. The initial flavor is tart and round, with notes of mulled wine, apple cider vinegar, and sour cherries. The woody, citrus flavor of the hibiscus provides an earthy counterpoint to the initial tartness. As the flavor develops, a lemony character drifts to center stage, bracingly acidic and refreshing. The body is quite light, and the tart, herbal flavors make this a tremendously refreshing beer. It is an amazing aperitif, and the ABV is low enough to make it a fascinating beer to sip over a long evening.

 

Samuel Adams Porch Rocker

Format Sampled: 12 oz capped bottle

ABV: 4.5%
Availability: Purchased at RSVP

Tasting Notes: Pours a sparkling gold with a thin whitish head. Aroma is lemony and pleasantly resembles a furniture polish. The initial flavor is oddly sweet and lemony – taking the furniture polish theme a bit too far for my enjoyment. Under the strangely clipped lemon flavor,  a chemically potent sweetness spreads rapidly over my palate and then disappears into whatever laboratory flask it came from. Underneath, a toasted malt flavor reminds me that this is, after all, a beer and not a soda. The aftertaste lingers, with a cloying, sickly sweet flavor that sticks to my tongue like rubber cement. This is an unfortunate beer, and a better result could have been obtained by simply adding a real lemon slice to any mass-market pilsner.

 

The Theater Project's exposes the beams in Lisa D'Amour's 'Detroit'

Even though neither couple’s suburban “starter home” is new, both houses feel somehow unfinished. You can see the seams in the sheetrock. Some newer construction is of bare lumber, not cut square. Even fully built parts of these houses feel low-fi, ersatz, or made of failing materials. The sliding door sticks. The lawn is a postage-stamp of turf. In the backyards of these two adjacent houses, two couples face vertiginous insecurity in the trajectory of middle-class American arrival, in Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit. Christopher Price directs (and has a swell little cameo in) a superbly cast production, both volatile and empathetic, at the Theater Project.

Mary (Shannon Campbell) and Ben (Brent Askari) may have “arrived,” but since Ben lost his job, they have been desperately trying to hold positionAs he and Mary host a barbecue for their new, younger, under-employed neighbors, Sharon (Lindsey Higgins) and Kenny (Corey Gagne), we can see how much Mary, especially, wants to be their ambassador to the middle class: She gives them the coffee table, serves iced tea in plastic goblets, and shares the gospel of pink sea salt. Her guests, Sharon and Kenny, met in rehab, as Sharon announces with a slightly red-flag lack of preamble, and they are now trying for a fresh start in Kenny’s uncle’s house. Every one of these characters has dark-comedic foibles, aspirations, and a front that will crack.

Higgins’s beautifully protean Sharon, in cut-offs and cut-up t-shirts, is vivid, candid, and unpredictable. You can sense a current of charismatic impulse gleaming beneath her surface, and she is not unaware of her jarring allure. Campbell’s Mary starts off the play as a foil of stability to Sharon, with her slacks, her solidpractical movements, and her bright hostess-talk as she sets out plastic plates and cups. But soon enough, it’s clear she struggles with alcoholism, a reveal that Campbell makes admirably gradual; her Mary rings true in the mingling of offense and defense that she wields in the process of getting a drink.

The men often defer to or try to defuse their more dramatic partners. Askari works Ben’s comedy in an affable schlemiel kind of way, giving him an endearingaw-shucks pathos, an even-tempered decency. Meanwhile, Gagne’s finely restrained, deep-voiced Kenny is so stoic, capable, and protective for so much of the play that his eventual reach for a beer signals a new level of bad news. When it happens, he and Ben reveal how desperately they’re grasping at any stereotype of strong white masculinity, as they plan a trip to the strip club that’s “one step up from trashy.”

As the characters navigate hope and failure, some surprisingly lyrical language sometimes comes out of their mouths: When the women dream of Spartan self-sufficiency in the woods, Mary says she wants “silver guppies nodding their heads on my calf.” After a fail in the woods, Sharon describes the car as sounding “like it was eating celery mixed with ice.” L’Amour’s script also lets Sharon play knowingly with “middle-class” language and tone: One minute she and Kenny are crowing through the possible names of a bar they got high in years ago, their faces screwed into debauched grins, and the next minute, she’s arch and mellifluous: “I’d love some lemon-ginger iced tea!” Such lines, and the nuance of these actors delivery, illuminate the insight, imagination, and savviness in these human beings, even as it strains against the Tupperware tenuousness of their existence.

The optimism that built their suburbsin the 1950snow seems almost surreal — a street around the corner is actually named “Solar Power Lane.” And Price’s cameo, as an older man nostalgic for when the early days of the neighborhood, is a quietly poignant counterpoint to everyone else’s histrionics and insecurity. It was like stealing second base,” he says softly, wistfully, of that time. “You were safe.” Several decades later in the game, it’s clear that not everyone is making it home.


 

Detroit | By Lisa D’Amour; directed by Christopher Price; produced by the Theater Project, 14 School St., Brunswick | Through October 29 | http://www.theaterproject.com.

 

Land Use: Coming to a Ballot Near You

You can’t fight City Hall, but you can make up a ballot referendum to throw a wrench into its works. That is the past, present and likely future history of how citizens deal with land use policies that that they do not like.

Residents might remember public votes on ordinances concerning Congress Square Park and the views from Munjoy Hill. This time around, residents will be voting on a contentious rent-regulation amendment (Question #1) and an anti-zone charge amendment (Question #2).

The question that is not on the ballot is why people are so pissed off. This comes down to a lack of political will to affect real change and the ability for some groups to engage in the process more effectively than others by virtue of having more time, money, knowledge, and resources to devote to the issue.

 

*       *       *

The coalition of landlords, developers, and realtors who oppose ballot Question 1 say the measure is poorly written and would limit supply, thus driving up costs. The group, named Say No to Rent Control has raised $172,000 to plead their case to the public.

Advocates of rent stabilization say rents are rising anyway and that smaller rent increases will have a negligible effect on landlord’s pocketbooks. And that the ordinance is designed to put more money in the hands of renters while building a more stable workforce. Given that city government prefers the free-market approach yet the majority of the population of Portland are renters, it is little surprise that the City Council Housing Committee tried to avoid the issue a much as possible.

In trying to thread the needle, the City Council’s Housing Committee set forth a series of measures to protect tenants, regulate Airbnbs, and facilitate projects by developers of affordable housing, all while trying not to upset neighbors — or markets. Although there is nothing bad about these policies — the effect is pretty lukewarm as they do not go far enough. Rent stabilization (along with deed restrictions, sale of city-owned land for affordable housing, land trusts, more aggressive zoning changes, etc.) was just one of many initiatives that have not been pursued. So a group of citizens wrote the amendment themselves.

We now have a brewing conflict between tenants and landlords with the city government looking on from the background and policy to be decided by popular vote.

*       *       *

As described in the Press Herald, passage of Question 2 would:

“(P)revent a zone change from being enacted if 25 percent of residents living within 500 feet sign a document opposing the change. However, a developer could overcome that obstacle by getting a majority of residents living within 1,000 feet of the site to sign a document in support within a 45-day period.”

Question Two reads like an NIMBY wet dream [NIMBY means Not In My Backyard, the rallying cry of the anti-development set]. The effort here is led by Mary Davis, who lives next to a planned redevelopment of the Camelot Farm site on Westbrook Street. The proposed development is a standard matrix of suburban single-family homes arrayed around an oblong driveway. The zone change enabled smaller lot sizes and additional housing units at a lower price point. Davis enlisted residents of the Stroudwater neighborhood who were still smarting over the rezoning of the Elks Lodge on outer Congress Street and the referendum was born. Davis is also part of group filing a lawsuit against the project.

The stretch of road contains several large parcels of pastoral landscape on the way from Stroudwater Village to downtown Westbrook. The area has been infilling with various non-agricultural uses: Westbrook Middle School, an ill-conceived industrial park, and now the proposed development.

Although supporters of the project point to 95 new housing units and preservation of roughly half of the site’s 45 acres; there’s not much to love about the project. Still, proponents of the referendum are playing a dangerous game by giving neighbors control of land use decisions. Given that the public is highly skeptical of any change or new development, one should expect a brave new world of signature gathering with every new project. This alone is likely to scare away a lot of future development. But speculation aside, it is designed to effectively (and retroactively) give neighbors veto power over a vast range of projects already in the works around the city including the Americold storage warehouse on West Commercial Street; affordable housing projects throughout the city; and the expansion of Maine Medical Center into its new Institutional Overlay Zone.

Public veto power comes at a heavy cost and just as the Planning Department is embarking upon a complete redo of the woefully out-of-date city zoning code. Improved zoning is necessary to address the dearth of housing, transportation, and neighborhood centers that is holding the city back.

Maybe a wrench in the works is too weak a metaphor; perhaps a hand grenade in a fish tank is more to the point.

What's taking so long? Mainers are anxious to start buying and selling recreational marijuana

Hundreds gathered at last week’s 3rd Annual New England Cannabis Convention amidst stalls displaying everything from the latest lighting and trimming technology, cultivation products, and an array of the latest strains, vaporizers, edibles, and CBD topicals, to talk shop about marijuana.

But underlying the industry chatter among vendors and attendees was an overwhelming sense of frustration with the delayed implementation of the measure voters approved of in November 2016 and the uncertainty surrounding its rewrite currently crawling through the legislature.

One question steered many of the conversations at the two-day convention: How long will it take before Maine’s recreational marijuana market is up and running?

“People voted for this, it's time to give them what they voted for,” said Dr. Trevor Boseman, an independent medical marijuana consultant from Brunswick on the NECANN floor. (Marc Shepard, the co-founder and president of NECANN, is an associate publisher of the Phoenix.)

A special bi-partisan committee has worked for seven months to amend last year’s citizen’s initiative and write a more responsible adult-use marijuana bill which aims to set up the licensing regulations, product safety requirements, age restrictions, and avenues for tax revenue (estimated at $220 million by 2020) for the recreational market in Maine.

Other aspects of the bill include a 10 percent sales tax and a 10 percent excise tax based on weight, provisions for law enforcement to receive six percent of collected sales tax, home cultivation limits to 12 plants, and a requirement that those applying for a recreational marijuana operation must have lived and paid taxes in Maine for at least two years.

Boseman doesn’t agree with everything in the bill (like the extra excise tax, which wasn’t in the original ballot question), but supports it regardless because he’s tired of all the stalling.

“I just want to see it go forward it whatever capacity, so people have access to it,” said Boseman. “On the medical side, some patients don’t want to get a green card, and they should be able to get it [marijuana] over the counter.”

Entrepreneurs looking to burgeon into this new market support the bill because without it recreational marijuana sales would be in a legal limbo and an unfettered, unlicensed, and untaxed black market would be in its place.

Grass Monkey, a family owned and operated cannabis company out of Westbrook, serves medical patients. But they’re hoping to sell to consumers 21 and over inside a Portland storefront offering numerous different strains of both indica and sativa. 

“I’m impressed with this bill, it will be the best one in the U.S. if passed,” said Jared Dinsmore of Grass Monkey. "They understand that the free market will dictate who stays in business and who goes. I appreciate the allowance of delivery services. I appreciate third-party testing; you can’t let people give themselves their own seals of approval. I’m happy that the state is taking on the task of responsibly drawing up a good bill for everybody.”

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Jared Dinsmore of the Portland cannabis company Grass Monkey showing off his product at the third annual New England Cannabis Convention. 

But it’s unclear what will happen once the bill reaches a divided House floor for deliberation or once it lands on LePage’s desk for potential signature.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) — who is against the legalization of marijuana in general — will vote against the bill because it lumps too many issues into one measure. Nobody knows how many Republicans will follow his lead.

David Boyer, Maine’s director of the Marijuana Policy Project said he’s almost certain that Gov. LePage will veto the bill. According to Boyer, if LePage continues to drag his feet on this, the earliest Mainers could see marijuana storefronts and social clubs is summer 2019.

“I’m disappointed in the Governor, he seems to have gone back on his word,” said Boyer, who played a big role in last year’s legalization effort. “If he vetoes it, Question 1 is still the law of the land, and we’ll still be in this awkward place where marijuana is legal to grow and own, but not to sell or buy.”

Boyer spent a lot of time at the convention urging folks living in Republican districts to call their legislator, in hopes of drumming up the two-third votes needed to override a potential veto.

“We don’t support everything in it, but we support the passage of it,” said Boyer. “Even if you don’t like marijuana at all, you still probably want this bill because it adds restrictions and regulations. It’s time to get moving on this.”

The Battle For Fair Rent — What You Need To Know About Question 1

It's no secret that Portland is changing — and fast. Tons of development money is pouring in, and with it, a different class of people who can afford higher rents, a process that has accelerated the displacement of long-term residents and exacerbated the housing crunch in the city. On November 7, Portlanders will vote on Question 1, the ordinance proposed by the upstart citizens' group Fair Rent Portland, which aims to cap the rate of rental increases and provide more protections for tenants.

The vote will be important for the future of the city. But with both sides of the debate accusing each other of distorting facts, the average citizen is often left confused.

For starters, the arguments offered aren’t both rooted in the same premise — namely, that rents are rising in Portland at such a pace that it’s disproportionately affecting low and middle-income earners. Opponents of Question 1 don’t agree; they say rents haven’t increased in the past two years.

But they have. The fair market rental rate for a two-bedroom in Portland was $1,012 in 2014. Since then, it’s risen to $1,348. According to the online real estate database Zillow, rents have risen by 40 percent in the past five years.

A recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition titled Out of Reach found that a Mainer earning the average renter wage of $10.98 an hour would have to work 80 hours a week to afford a fair market rate two-bedroom apartment costing $939 a month (affordability is defined here as spending less than 30 percent of one's income on rent). And that’s just the average cost for the entire state. Portland itself is indeed more expensive to live in than ever before.

Those opposing rent stabilization, a group calling themselves Say No To Rent Control, has been rebuked by critics for indulging in fear-mongering, conflating rent stabilization with rent control and falsely claiming that the rent-stabilization ordinance would increase property taxes.

Members of Fair Rent Portland consider the signs and flyers their opposition has peppered all over town “manipulative and designed to frighten Portland voters.”

“The most obvious and dramatic aspect of the flyer is how it is almost a non-sequitur,” said Jack O’Brien, a member of Fair Rent Portland. “While there are many reasons that people have come out against rent stabilization, this one has almost no basis in the economic literature, empirical studies, or even what other opposition campaigns have come out with in the past.”

Who Doesn't Like Fair Rent?

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Brit Vitalius, the president of the Southern Maine Landlords Association, speaking at a recent Say No To Rent Control Rally. Photo Courtesy of Say No To Rent Control. 

Say No To Rent Control is a loosely organized coalition mostly comprised of landlords, real estate agents, contractors and developers. The group is promoted by the Southern Maine Landlords Association and Port Property, the single largest housing company in the city, and their address, 306 Congress Street, shares the same address for The Vitalius Group, one of the area's biggest real estate companies.

Naturally, their campaign has a big financial advantage. The Portland Press Herald reported that the Say No To Rent Control still has over $100,000 left in their campaign coffers, compared to $3,200 for Fair Rent Portland. As evidenced by the big turnout at a Say No To Rent Control rally last week at Lincoln Park, the group appears to be determined to squash this ordinance.

It’s worth noting that suspicions suggesting that the opposition's marketing is being run out of Washington D.C. are unfounded. Derek Lavallee, who manages public relations for the opposition campaign, does write as a columnist for the conservative-leaning D.C.-based website The Hill, but he’s lived and worked out of Portland since 2010. (He believes that Fair Rent Portland is the group responsible for disseminating flyers filled with falsehoods, but more on that later.)

Together, Lavallee and a coalition of landlords are pushing the narrative that Question 1 is a “poorly written ordinance” and throwing around a lot of money to convince you that a yes vote would be a disaster for Portland. In this piece, we’ll examine their biggest gripes.

What would Question 1 do?

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Campaign signs for Fair Rent Portland. 

If approved by voters, the ordinance would set up a special volunteer panel which would settle rent increase and eviction disputes in the city — one of the worries here is that the panel would automatically be biased toward tenants, regardless of the issue.

Article XII Sec. 6-250 of the proposed ordinance reads: “The city shall take reasonable steps, but is not required, to appoint to the Rent Board at least one (1) Landlord and at least four (4) tenants.”

Under the ordinance, the board would have the authority to approve or deny proposed rent increases, make rulings on appeals brought forth by tenants challenging evictions, and fine landlords if they don’t follow the provisions laid out in the ordinance.

In other words, it’s an effort to hold landlords more accountable and address the power imbalance between them and their tenants. What it's not is a group of citizens arbitrarily setting a cap on rental increases with no chance for discussion (like the Say No crowd warns). In fact, the ordinance ties the annual allowable rent increase to inflation, and if landlords have a property improvement that warrants a rent increase, they can appeal to the board. 

But there remain valid concerns that the seven-person board would be ill-equipped to mediate the myriad of rental increase and eviction disputes amongst the 18,000 or so renters in Portland.  

“The volunteer panel would replace eviction court and this is a completely unworkable proposal,” said Lavallee. “This would be an unreasonably expensive and time-consuming task, and the replacement of the court system with volunteers without any legal experience would be an injustice to both renters and landlords.”

The proposed ordinance would remain active for five years with a section of it stating that the Portland City Council "will determine to amend, renew, or terminate it 180 days prior to January 1, 2025." The opposition doesn’t appreciate this so-called “sunset clause,” and its potential to keep rent-stabilization on the books for seven years, five of which without a chance for a slight amendment.

Question 1 would also increase the city registration fee for new units up $30, from $35 to $65. However, this provision and the overall cap on allowable increase percentage wouldn't apply to landlords who own less than six units under the ordinance.

There are other concerns the Say No To Rent Control side has with the rent stabilization ordinance, but perhaps their biggest one is that under it landlords believe they’d lose the incentive to upgrade units and invest in new developments. They say this would “lead to a shortage of affordable housing.”

Overall, they believe that rent-stabilization would contribute to the problem it’s trying to ameliorate by pushing landlords to develop condos or use AirBnb to rent rooms to circumnavigate the regulations that cut into their profits. Using this logic, poor people looking for housing in a tight market would lose out the most.

“It’s really just not a well-written document,” said Dana Totman, the CEO of Avesta Housing, Portland's largest provider of affordable housing. “It will not have a positive effect, I think it will probably lead to many apartments being converted to condominiums or Airbnb just to avoid this whole thing. People will try to get out of the apartment business, and that’s not good for affordability.”

This argument is puzzling, especially coming from people who claim to care about gentrification in Portland, like Jonathan Culley, a housing developer and board member at Avesta Housing. Culley opposes Question 1 and appeared in a recent ad for the Say No campaign saying "rent control initiatives favor middle and upper-income professionals, they favor people with good educations, they favor people who are well connected, and they favor people with high credit scores, and these are not the people that need the help.

In other words, poor people need help and housing, but landlords make more money when they don't rent to them. 

The Say No To Rent Control website cites a study called “Rent Control: Do Economists Agree?” that backs up the claim that rent-control policies hurt the people it intends to help the most. Written by Blair Jenkins in 2009, it concludes that 93 percent of economists in the American Economic Association consider rent-stabilization bad policy.

“There is a whole host of economic studies that show the negative impacts of rent control,” said Lavallee. “The primary problem with rent controls is that they create supply shortages — meaning less affordable housing.”

Referencing the study, copy on a Say No To Rent Control leaflet reads: “This means more competition for fewer housing units, resulting in a market that favors landlords instead of tenants. With a cap on rental costs, this means things like credit scores and work history will become even more important to property owners when approving tenants. It is more likely that higher-income earners will be favored based on their ability to afford rent.”

Dubious sources?

However, Fair Rent Portland takes issue with citing this study because it “systematically excludes almost all of the recent research on rent stabilization,” including all work from Canada and Europe, and the work of Edward Olson and Richard Arnott, the two leading economists who’ve studied it..

“She’s cherry-picking information and publishing it on a free-market think-tank page,” said O’Brien. “I would not call that a credible source.”

And even if 93 percent of economists "agree that rent-control is bad policy, it's useful here to consider the work of Arnott who argued in a 1997 paperthat critics of rent control often deride its oldest versions, instead of examining modern policies that have since been reformed. For example, like Fair Rent Portland’s proposal, many rent-stabilization policies across the U.S. exempt landlords from the cap on rental increases when dealing with new tenants (something called vacancy decontrol), or constructing new units. Arnott argues that rent control programmes should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, rather than being opposed in general.

"Second-generation rent controls are typically mild and so can be expected to have only modest effects on the housing market,” reads a portion of Arnott’s study. “As a result, expert opinion on the effects of modern rent control policies has become increasingly agnostic.”

Loss of theoretical revenue

Jenkins herself recognizes that over 140 jurisdictions have implemented rent-control policies across the U.S. just since 2001, each one distinctly unique in definition and execution. The flyers choose to mention two cities as examples of rent control gone wrong: “from Berkeley, California, to New York City, the adoption of rent control in communities around the country has resulted in massive erosion of tax revenues.” It then warns voters ominously, “don’t let Portland be the next city on the list.”

But the interesting thing according to O’Brien is that the studies cited on the flyer only tenuously back up its claims.

The first citation on the flyer points to a thorough, glowing report from the City of Berkeley about their rent-stabilization program from 1978-1994, which was implemented to shield low-earning renters from the rising costs of land in the Bay Area. During that period, the average controlled rent in Berkeley was 35 to 40 percent below what it would have been without controls. Landlords did see a decrease in profits — down from 19 percent return on investment to 9 percent — but this had “little to if any effect” on building repair and maintenance expenditures.

“All of the disasters predicted by critics did not come to pass,” said O’Brien.

In fact, the study shows that the policy was successful in stabilizing communities, decreasing transience, slowing rent increases, and retaining more black, disabled, and elderly residents than neighboring cities.

“Overall the Bay Area suffered a staggering loss of more than half of its most affordable rental units due to rent increases. Berkeley held its loss of low-rent units to half the rate of the Bay Area and was far more successful than any of its neighbors in maintaining its stock of low-rent housing,” the study reads.

The claim the opposition makes about the erosion of tax revenues stems solely from page 132 of the study, a section on foregone revenue, which is calculated as what Berkeley would have made if its buildings had increased at the same rate as surrounding towns without a rent-stabilization policy. It reads that rent stabilization diminished increases in the resale value of multi-unit buildings in Berkeley and the value of buildings in outside the city increased at a higher rate.

Berkeley's tax base from multi-units did not shrink but grew more slowly than that of its neighbors. But since Berkeley did not collect this virtual revenue that they might otherwise have had, they might have had to increase property taxes. So essentially, there was no tax increase directly related to the stabilization policy.

“It’s not remotely like a property tax increase,” said O’Brien.

When asked directly whether the rent-stabilization ordinance would increase property taxes in Portland, Lavallee didn’t refer to a formal tax increase, instead saying: “Question 1 would cause the devaluation of rental properties, based on their limits revenue potential. When these properties drop in value, it would create a decrease in tax revenue. This would put pressure on other revenue sources like property taxes for homeowners to replace lost tax revenue from devalued rental properties.”

The last citation on the flyer — titled A Financial Analysis On Rent Regulations In New York City — says that a rent control initiative cost the city over 4 billion in taxable property values in the late 1980s. But it’s unclear if the study connects that loss directly to an increase in property taxes. “That study is even stranger,” says O’Brien.

First off, it’s incredibly hard to find.

“I’m an academic and I know how to search a library, but I could not find that book,” said O’Brien who searched every major university in New England and the Library of Congress. “I don’t think anyone actually read this book. I would be interested to see if they could produce a copy.”

The only copy readily available comes from Albany, New York, and is considered questionable by Fair Rent Portland because it was commissioned by landlords in New York to argue against rent regulations and is largely cited concerning the distribution of units in the city.

But the struggles of enacting rent-control in much bigger cities like New York and Berkeley might not serve as a good analog for Portland; each city has very different housing stocks, available space, income distributions, and demographics. Fair Rent Portland modeled their ordinance off of existing ones in the smaller cities of West Hollywood, CA and Takoma Park, MD.

According to a story in the Washington Post, in Takoma Park, one apartment building called the Hampshire Tower was granted exemption from their city’s rent stabilization policy under the condition that they’d renovate units and address over 100 code violations. What was the result? Sure, residents received upgraded apartments but they also got a 70 percent increase in rents — up from $1,098 a month to $1,600. This displaced dozens of lower-income residents, primarily first-generation immigrants.

But elsewhere in the city, where rent-control policies were enacted, the immediate housing crisis was relieved and long-term development and growth were supported; today Takoma is home to a “thriving middle class.”

Facts or feelings

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With hugely well-funded interests backing the Say No To Rent Control campaign and these seemingly founded allegations of promulgating misinformation, it’s no surprise that Fair Rent Portland doesn’t consider this a fair fight. O’Brien considers the political tactics of their opponents as nothing new, saying that it fits right into how debates have been conducted in the U.S. for decades.

“The majority of people can agree on an issue, but what wealthy interests have learned since the '70s is that the only thing you have to do to stop a progressive policy is gin up enough fear and insecurity that people vote no out of a sort of pragmatic conservatism,” said O’Brien. “That’s a trick they’ve used over and over again, from climate change to labor laws to minimum wage.”

But the Say No To Rent Control crowd also accuses their opponents of distorting facts, with a page of their website dedicated to “fact checking” Fair Rent Portland’s flyers which they say are “riddled with false statements.” Of the seven allegedly debunked points, three seem to be onto something: Fair Rent Portland claims that their ordinance is as an “interim measure” (seven years is hardly an interim), that it “encourages construction of affordable housing” (there’s nothing in Question 1 about that), and that Portland “recently ranked #2 in the nation for rent increases (it technically did for one month in 2015, but the larger picture ranks Portland 2,750th out of 13,113 cities for rate of rent increases).

A lack of a shared set of facts and general confusion around an issue can lead to extreme polarization, when in fact, both sides might simultaneously voice truths: rent stabilization can protect tenants against arbitrary rent increases or evictions and impact housing quantity and quality. And when a political issue is objectively complex, it’s tempting to make it subjectively simple, encouraging voters to make a decision based on morals and personal philosophy.

In an interview with Pacific Standard, Joshua Mason, an economics professor at Roosevelt University alluded to this notion by saying that “the real goal of rent control is protecting the moral rights of occupancy," something that's not guaranteed in a free-market.

“Long-term tenants who contributed to this being a desirable place to live have a legitimate interest in staying in their apartments,” said Mason. “If we think that income diverse, stable neighborhoods, where people are not forced to move every few years, [are worth preserving] then we collectively have an interest in stabilizing the neighborhood.”

As is often the case with political debates revolving around intellectually dense topics like economics and public policy, it’s common practice to eschew statistics, distort studies to fit a narrative, shamelessly exploit fears, and instead call for people to squeeze themselves into just two morally subjective camps of people: those that believe housing is a product, and those that believe it’s a basic human right.

Which camp are you in?

Consider 'Sex With Strangers' — Good Theater mounts a fine one

The Good Theater’s season opener is called Sex With Strangers, but don’t get the wrong kind of excited: the real intercourse behind the title is the one that happens when writers share their intimately crafted extensions of self with an anonymous, indifferent world of readers. Or, as director Steve Underwood more pithily puts it, Sex With Strangersby Laura Eason (a writer on the Emmy-winning House of Cardsis “a play about that little old industry that begins with ‘P’…PUBLISHING!

And a fraught, unfair, and often heartbreaking industry it is — particularly when it comes to new generational and technological clashesThat’s what we get, in Eason’s sharp, funny comedic drama, when millennial best-selling author Ethan (Marshall Taylor Thurman) crashes the cozy writing retreat of late-thirty-something novelist Olivia (Amanda Painter). She’s an unknown, whose first novel got the dreaded “mixed reviews.” He’s a celebrity with a gazillion Twitter followers, whose two books began as a blog about the gazillion women he’s slept with. He has fame; she has artistic integrity: Each has something the other wants at least a little of. Naturally, they hook up.

Thurman’s Ethan enters Olivia’s inn in full-blown bro mode, talking fast, taking over the living room, and reeking of entitlement. Thurman, who was delightfully outrageous as a voguing boy-toy last season in Good Theater’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, is again costumed to be obviously, almost aggressively good-looking, his muscles shown off brazenly under his white t-shirt and jeans. Thurman’s Ethan moves, talks, and multi-tasks with the focused speed of high-functioning internet. He leaps over the back of the love seat, asks Olivia directly about her bad reviews and why she isn’t publishing online. He holds his mouth, and his body, like tools he’s confident he knows how to use.

Olivia, of course, is annoyed, incredulousand sarcastic. But Painter also shows her wistfulness, her yearning to feel her work — and so herself — received. As Olivia opens up to him, Painter does a lovely job illuminating their moments of connection, showing Olivia’s pleasure when they commune, for example, over the smell of old books. In their banter, Olivia keeps up with Ethan’s pointed repartee when she wants to, but sometimes she is slower to respond; we can see her thoughtfulness, her differenceas she processes. hankered to see a touch more of this contrast in the moments leading up their first sexual encounter, to see a little more of the wise hesitation Olivia surely feels about this arrogant wunderkind, even under the influences of wine and that most powerful aphrodisiac: hearing your own words recited by an admirer.

We see more ambivalence and complexity once the relationship adjourns to her apartment in Chicago (the detailed naturalistic set transforms meticulously from cozy inn to book-lined living room). Painter and Thurman have a dynamic rapport that rises and recedes; they engagingly portray both the couple’s visceral connection and the fundamental disagreements between their generations — about privacy, online versus “real” identity, and self-publishing versus waiting for a legacy press to take your book. Over time and tensions, Painter’s Olivia finds herself hanging in doorways, withholding herself, withdrawing into her own computer screen. And when Ethan falls silent, when his postures fall away, when the Twitter-percussiveness leaves his voice, Thurman makes convincing his insecurity, his youth, and his raw anxiety to be taken seriously as a writer.

Make no mistake, Eason knows writers, their insecurities, their terror of mediocrity. One of the play’s smartest and most brutal moments comes when Ethan, after committing an unthinkable publishing offense against Olivia, asks her what she thought of his prose. He looks vulnerable enough that he might as well be asking her how satisfied he was with a different kind of intimate performance. “I thought it was…” she begins. She pauses, seeking just the right knife, then shrugs, fine. I thought it was fine. Ouch.


 

Sex With StrangersBy Laura Eason; directed by Steve Underwood; produced by Good Theater | Through October 22 | St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St., Portland | $25-32 | www.goodtheater.com 

 

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