While the surrounding community hastily prepares for winter, with final garden harvests, wood chores and weatherizing, the EAC has been a hive of another type of activity. In preparation for the advent of actor Ed Asner, who’ll appear with local cast members in a political comedy on October 12 and 13, EAC staff and community members are hard at work building ‘Heaven’ as a stage set, since Asner’s show casts the star as God himself. Meanwhile, four local performers are preparing for ‘Heaven-sent’ roles opposite the 8-time Emmy award-winning icon. The production will be put together at high speed, with Asner arriving with his producer and director on Friday for opening night on Saturday.
“It is indeed a quick turn around,” said Liza Asner, Ed’s daughter, assistant and the show’s producer. “The local actors have been rehearsing by the time we get into town and then do table reads while the director works on programming light and sound cues with local theatre’s tech director.” The show, which has been staged so far this year in small towns in Tennessee, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania and California, and which heads to Eastport after concluding a run in Montana, is headed next to Mabou, Nova Scotia for an October 18 performance. Each venue meets the Asner team midway, creating their own iteration of the celestial set, costumes and by finding cast members. “I thought it would be great to feature local actors in the show,” said Liza. “It adds a local flavor … and has been well received by the communities we land in.” And to the oft-repeated question, ‘Why Eastport,’ Liza replied, “I had reached out hoping to add a show before Canada and Chris Grannis jumped on it!”
Pausing from stagecraft work with her husband Steve Grannis, EAC Director Chris Grannis noted with her quick grin some of the many volunteers who’ve stepped up to aid the production: Bernie Cecire will assist with sound; Colby Stoker will run the light board; Sally DeCicco has been working on costumes; and set dressers/painters will include the Grannises plus Cathy Adelman, Jude Kempe, and Lauren Koss. EAC’s Island Institute Fellow Mark Macey will fill in ‘for God,’ reading Asner’s lines as part of practices with local cast members Jenie Smith, Peter Frewen, Ann Cornelison and Brian Giles.
“I have had a crush on Ed Asner for decades now,” confessed Cornelison, who’ll fill one of two nonspeaking roles as an angel who doubles as a stage hand. “To say that this opportunity is a dream come true would assume that it ever occurred to me that it was even remotely within the realm of possible dreams.” Cornelison, who divides her time between Eastport and the Texas Hill Country, has enjoyed a career of mostly comic roles with Stage East. “I admire his acting and his activism, and I hope I do not dissolve completely in his presence. I guess God has that affect on people.”
The other angelic performer will be “The Reverend” Brian Giles, a stand-up comic, educator and off-grid homesteader. “I used to do theater but have found it is so time consuming that I cannot make it, my kids, my job, and my chores all fit on the same schedule,” explained Giles. “This was a unique opportunity to do theater in a dine and dash fashion! No month-long rehearsal schedule, just four days of fun! Also, I am a fan of Ed Asner mostly because he is the most Santa a Santa can be. I dig Santa a bunch.”
“Mr. Asner has long been a hero of mine, both as an actor and as a progressive thinker,” noted Jenie Smith, who will portray a conservative opposite husband Peter Frewen, who’ll play a liberal. “What a gas for me to play counter to my own political bent, and fun for Peter to not be his usual ‘grumpy man’ role. We’re memorizing like mad in hopes that we will not make fools of ourselves in front of Mr. Asner and the rest of his company!” Smith and Frewen, familiar faces for Washington County theater-goers have appeared frequently on the EAC stage in Stage East and Magnificent Liars productions, as well as in musical performances. “An opportunity to learn from [Asner] is … unreal and awesome,” continued Smith. “After the ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ I was a ‘Lou Grant’ devotee, and his acting on that was a huge draw for me. Thereafter, his work for multiple causes towards making the world better has incurred my great admiration. We are grateful beyond measure for this opportunity.”
“This is a very interesting year ahead of us leadership wise. I think this show is wonderful, funny, topical and important,” notes Liza. “It’s a way to open a conversation about that scary word, ‘politics’. Politics is in everything we do in life but the show is more about ethics, ethics that people refer to as politics, but are really ethics—instilled in us from youth. And we will all feel differently about certain issues. We must come to an understanding that not everyone will agree on issues and the sooner we accept this, the more we will be willing to walk in each other’s shoes.”
Tickets for both performances are sold out at this writing. More information about programs of Eastport Arts Center, ‘where creativity and community meet’ may be found at eastportartscenter.org.