Friday, October 23, 2009

The Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH put on a very strong program last night, spanning two of the performing arts and growing out of the local theater and film scene. The focus was the gay-themed two-character play Just Say Love by local playwright David Mauriello that he and director Bill Humphries have turned into an intriguing and very beautiful movie.

Some of you may remember that a couple of years ago I spoke of a valuable Portsmouth theater group called The Players' Ring that produces its own material and also makes its venue available to other theater companies from the general area. One of The Players' Ring productions, Just Say Love, received exceptionally strong notices.

Beginning with the chance encounter between a gay man (Matthew Jaeger, above)

and a straight, latent bisexual man Robert Mammana), the play explores issues of physical desire, love, spirituality and their interaction in relationships. Key is Mammana's character's inability to express affection physically or verbally to another man, although sexual contact is no problem as long as he remains mostly clothed and all emotion is kept firmly beyond arm's length. The great central scene of the film begins with his finally undressing/allowing himself to be undressed, leading to what one audience member later described as an "erotic ballet" between the two men. Without a single genital shot but luminously lit, filmed and performed, the two make love very beautifully which leads to further complications and the final resolution.

The style in whch the film was shot is interesting. Humphries and Mauriello both had an aversion to the fixed camera documentation of stage plays that is so common, and that generally flattens them out beyond salvation. They chose to expand the set of the stage production extensively but to keep its theatrical form rather than redesigning it as a movie set. To both of them, it was important that the material's origin as a stage play be honored and retained. But within the stage setting, the camera moved in and probed the actors and the physical world within which they lived in the manner of a movie. The result was a successful fusion of the two media. Jaeger and Mammana, film actors with extensive stage experience, replaced the cast of the original stage production. Filming was done at a production facility in Tilton, New Hampshire. Just Say Love has been shown at film festivals in the U.S., receiving positive press and some awards. It's currently invited to be shown at film festivals in Spain and Italy.

The program began with brief statements by the Director of The Players' Ring that included her thanks to the City of Portsmouth for its continuing and expanding support of the company. We were shown the trailer for Summer Blink, a second film from a New Hampshire play, followed by Author/Producer Mauriello's remarks. There was then a performance of the song written for the closing credits, its effect somewhat compromised by a too heavy bass setting and bad enunciation by the singer. Co-producer and Director Humphries then explained the techniques he had used to put the material on screen and a short scene from the stage script was performed. The movie itself was shown and there was a question and answer session to close the evening.

Just Say Love was shown in Rochester, NY recently and will be shown in about a month in Chicago.

Altogether, it was a great program, well attended and appreciated by its audience. There will probably be more of these locally produced plays onto the screen in future at the Music Hall--I'm looking forward to them.

Local theater groups/communities are amazing aren't they? From Boise to Portland, Denver and everything in between I've been priviliged to see some remarkable talent and productions. It sounds like this was stellar!
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