Talking Island Life With Penobscot Theatre

by | Oct 26, 2023 | News

Three white men sit on a theatre stage and converse.
Mission President John Zavodny and Director of Island Services Douglas Cornman chat on-stage with Penobscot Theatre’s Artistic Director Jonathan Berry.

Walk into any Penobscot Theatre production and prepare to be floored. Mission staff were in mid-October when invited to be the Theatre’s community partner for an upcoming production called Dirty Deeds Downeast. Written by playwright Brent Askari, the play a comedic murder-mystery set on an unbridged island in Maine. At its heart, the play explores the depths of relationships that exist in a small community.

In August, the Theatre’s Executive Director Jen Shepard reached out to the Mission with the request. As co-founder of nonprofit Improv Acadia and a former longtime MDI resident, Jen remembered the Mission’s work with island communities.

The Theatre identifies a community partner that can join a Q&A session and provide context and delve deeper into the themes for each performance, the Theatre looks for a community partner.

Dirty Deeds Downeast centers around a fictional island’s lone police officer solving a resident’s mysterious disappearance. Peppered with witty one-liners, the show goes beyond mystery to touch on community ties, identity, mental health, and other topics.

A white man dressed as a police officer gasps while chatting with a white woman dressed as a diner waitress.

An illustration of a shadowed figure standing on a fishing dock. The figure points a flashlight at a chalk figure of a body on the dock planks.

“Something I love about Dirty Deeds Downeast is that it defies classification,” says Jonathan. “I appreciate art that embraces and celebrates the multitudes that exist in our day-to-day life. So often, we look for an easy classification because it can feel reassuring to have something reliably “known.” But within each person, we play multiple roles (mother, daughter partner, boss, etc)…Like Gerard, the cop at the center of our story, we all seem to be searching for a place to feel at “home” where we can feel both seen and accepted as our full selves.”

Following a packed performance, Mission President John Zavodny took the stage alongside Director of Island Services Douglas Cornman. Both sat with Jonathan to discuss hallmarks of island life as well as answer audience questions. They also provided background about the Mission and its service to Maine islands for the past 118 years.

While some characters in the play want to leave the island, John and Douglas remarked that reality is quite different. Residents take pride in their islands and form tightknit communities that stretch back generations. In the Mission’s work, staff observe islanders sometimes fighting to stay put despite systemic challenges they sometimes face such as housing, healthcare, education, and transportation.

When Douglas asked audience members who had visited a Maine unbridged island, hands flew up. Isle au Haut, North Haven, Swan’s Island, and Islesford were some places they had visited. Theatregoers shared their observations on the islands, noting residents’ resilience, independence, and friendliness.

Two white men dressed as a lobsterman and a police officer examine a red thermos cup.

Dirty Deeds Downeast runs through Sunday, November 5. Reserve tickets today at Penobscot Theatre’s website. Based in the historic Bangor Opera House on Bangor’s Main Street, the Theatre is celebrating its 50th season. As an Actor’s Equity theatre, PTC delivers seven productions annually and draws between 30,000 and 40,000 theatregoers in a single year.

Learn more about the work aboard Sunbeam and on islands through our Island Health and Island Outreach programs.

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