NEWCASTLE — There’s some amazing locally-conceived and created theater happening at Heartwood Regional Theater. I had the opportunity to interview playwright/director Griff Braley about his production of “Down Along The Cove,” running the next two weekends.

SDD: “Down Along The Cove” is your baby. How many years has it been “in gestation”?

Braley: I began by writing about 25 short stories between 1989 and about 2001. When we started the company in 2003, short story writing went by the wayside. About four years ago I came across the file and started looking at the pieces and how they might be a play.

SDD: I know you wrote it, sat with it, workshopped it. What was the most challenging piece of the process for you?

Braley: Letting go, of course! Two hundred eighty pages of single-spaced prose became a 55,000 word first draft, and then the cutting starting. Whole stories, whole character lines, etc. Now we are well below half the word count in the production script.

My short story writer has learned to trust my playwright who is still learning to trust the actors and director. The actors have been key to unlocking core meanings, which allows me to let go of language. At this point the most challenging thing is the determination of how the mixed prose, poetry, dramatic language flows and effects the audience.

SDD: Are the characters fictional? Compilations? Straight up homage to a real person?

Braley: Every vignette springs from an event that I experienced or a person I know or knew. Some characters are certainly compilations, and I doubt anyone would recognize themselves in the play, though they might recognize behaviors, quirks, etc.

I’ve really incorporated a lot of local vernacular but let it slide across the spectrum. There are certainly moments of homage, but too personal to make explicit in the script. I’ll have to die with those ideas!

SDD: How have the cast members “from away” been challenged by characters with this distinctly Maine coast vibe/reality?

Braley: Tough dialect! But they have done due diligence on the locales, the local characters. And of course, they ARE from away, so they really get the from away characters – no acting required!

I would say the toughest thing is still the thinking of many characters, local, conservative and reticent, who are drawn less like stereotypes and more as folks of a common humanity. All of the actors say that they have versions of those “local color” types in their own environments: New York, North Carolina, Maryland, etc.

SDD: What brings you the most joy from this production?
Braley: It’s just really humbling to have the support of audience members, board members, donors, technicians, advertisers, etc., along with cast members who did the workshopped readings, but didn’t get cast in the show, along with the current ensemble—all of whom have supported this adventure.

Making a full length original play is beautifully dangerous and so many people have trusted me to do what I can to make it happen. I hope they ALL see the show. I also really love a lot of the people I’m writing about—quirks and all—so to see moments from some of my most influential life experiences played out on stage, in our very own Poe theater, is pretty exciting and humbling.

“Down Along The Cove” will be presented at the Poe Theater at Lincoln Academy, with a 3 p.m. matinee on July 1, and 7:30 p.m. performances on June 29 and 30, July 6 and 7. Reserve by emailing [email protected] or phoning 563-1373. Student are $5, subsidized by First Advisors and Colby & Gale; adult tickets are $20.

Tamara Lilly is a Woolwich native with 30-plus years as performer, tech, producer, director, teacher, board member and staff at community theaters in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Maine. Find the Stage Door Diva Podcast on iTunes or stagedoordiva.com. Tamara can be reached at:
[email protected]