By Kassadi Moore
BANGOR, ME-Penobscot Theater Company’s play “Papermaker” will give any Mainer who has grown up in a mill town flashbacks. The six-character play, written by Monica Wood and directed by Daniel Burson, takes place in the fictitious town of Abbott Falls, Maine. The main occupation, and the desired occupation of Abbott Falls residents, is being a papermaker at the local paper mill. Making paper is not just a job, but an art form for the people of Abbott and the owner of the mill, Henry John McCoy. McCoy is a successful businessman in New York, whom owns various mills across the country. The play opens with McCoy reading a newspaper from Abbott Falls angrily explaining the workers strike and how McCoy ruined it all. McCoy reads the paper bitterly and articulately. He said they should be thanking him; it’s him that built it up and gave them jobs, and it’s him that wants to make good quality paper. McCoy’s hatred of the paper goes from their reports to their low-quality paper.
On the other side of the strike battle, the audience meets loving, and bickering couple, Ernie and Marie Donahue. Marie is sicken with pancreatic cancer; her husband, whom has extra time on his hands from the strike, has decided to build Marie an arc as a present. The scene opens with Marie quietly trying to read a book while her talkative nurse, Nancy, takes her vitals, and Ernie hammers away on the arc. Nancy’s husband is also out of work because of the strike, but as President of the Union, has been passionately urging the residents of the town to hold out and wait for what is best for them. Nancy is pestering Ernie to join her husband, Ernie is pestering Marie with the hammering, Marie is pestering Nancy to leave her alone, and through the whole commotion, Nancy forgets about half of the medical checks on her list. Ernie and Marie’s son, Jake, lives a few houses down, is married with a new daughter and struggling to provide with no job. This scene is strikingly familiar to any rural-living Mainer. The family bickers, and struggles, but at any moment that Marie shows any pain, they come together as a loving family struggling to make it through a hard time.
Through of all McCoy’s “sticking-it” to his workers, he has become distant with his daughter Emily. Emily is young, ivy-league student struggling to find her way in life, connect with her father, and mourn the loss of her recently-passed mother. After a long discussion with McCoy, filled with many “counterpoints,” as McCoy puts it, Emily convinces McCoy to take a trip to New Hampshire with her. “I don’t know you, Henry. I don’t know my own father,” said Emily.
As the McCoy’s take the long ride north, the situation in Abbott Falls worsens. Emily is getting sicker. Jake needs to provide for his family and is considering crossing the picket line. Ernie cannot seem to stop working on the arc, no matter the hour, and Nancy, with the rest of the town, is growing restless. Emily takes over the wheel towards the end of the ride as McCoy rests unknowing of Emily’s own restlessness. Emily reaches her destination only to see a sign directing her to Abbott Falls. Emily, confused and looking for answers, decides to continue driving. She read about Ernie’s arc in the newspaper and it encompassed her thoughts. She is struggling to find her direction, but yet someone decided to build an arc. She had to know why. So she drove until she found it.
The arc symbolizes the whole essence of the town and what they are striving for. It is old-fashioned, simple, obsolete, but loved. Ernie is making the arc for his dying wife, whom he loves so dearly. Ernie and his family have direction, and they know who and what is on their priority list. This is the essence of not only Abbott Falls, Maine, but also many small rural towns across Maine. The residents care about their family and contributing quality work. The Donahue’s enlighten the McCoy’s about this concept.
“Papermaker” is on the stage in a very timely manner in Maine. Currently, there are mills starting to go through the process of reopening in Sherman, Millinocket and Lincoln. Almost every resident in those areas could explain the trials of the towns with the past closings of the mills, and the plans for the future.
“Papermaker” will host their final showings this weekend on Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets can be bought at the Penobscot Theater website.
Photo Credit: Dergreg