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Monday December 18, 2017
Posted: Apr 29, 2015

Monica Wood’s play powerfully examines struggling paper mill

Travel Talk

Papermaker is a play you must see – and you’ve got ‘til May 24 to do that.

It’s the best play we’ve ever seen at Portland Stage. And you’ve still got plenty of time to see it. Monica Wood’s play, Papermaker, is sensational, thought-provoking, something you will never forget.

Monica was one of my favorite novelists, with four terrific books to her credit, when she wrote her autobiography, When We Were the Kennedys, an amazing story of growing up in Mexico, Maine, when the Rumford paper mill dominated the towns and economy. When the workers went on strike, their families, and the town, were devastated.

I wrote a newspaper column about Monica’s autobiography shortly after it was published. And I was so impressed with the book that I included that column in my own book, A Life Lived Outdoors, published in March of 2014 by Islandport Press.

I expected the play to be the story in her autobiography, but it is much more than that — complex, insightful, and powerful. Very powerful.

Monica’s Thoughts

Monica and her husband actually sat in the row in front of us when Linda and I attended opening night of the play last Tuesday at Portland Stage. The place was packed, with an audience that included Mary Herman, the wife of U.S. Senator Angus King, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and Attorney General Janet Mills.

After settling into our seats, I opened the program to read the thoughts of Director Sally Wood, who called Papermaker “a lovely gift.” And the program included something from Monica.

“I was born in Mexico, Maine, to a family of devout Irish Catholics, a family of paper mill workers,” she wrote. “My father and mother’s parents came from Prince Edward Island in Canada, and brought with them the island tradition of storytelling. Although my sisters and I were the first generation of the family to go to college, I think of my background as a literary one.

“My father had a lilting island brogue and beautiful grammar; the notion that stories had to be told in a certain way was something I learned early. My grandfather used to sing long, melodramatic, novelistic ballads, another island tradition. I am not one of those writers who claim to have been weaned on Proust, but I did read a lot, a happy habit for a child, no matter what the material.”

I really loved this from Monica: “The best advice I have for aspiring writers is to read, read, read. Read everybody; you’re bound to find that one writer who seems to write only for you, and it will be an exhilarating, life-changing discovery.” That is so true.

If you read Monica’s novels and autobiography, you may decide she’s writing for you!

The Play

I lived through a major strike at the Jay paper mill, decades ago, with friends both inside and outside the mill. It was devastating, a very painful experience for everyone involved. So I didn’t really know what to expect from Papermaker.

Artistic Director Anita Steward explained it this way: “Papermaker examines both sides of the story of American manufacturing: that of a mill owner struggling against global competition, and that of mill workers facing the loss of their once-prosperous rural community. Monica helps us see the human story behind the headlines.”

That she does, in a very compelling way. You will laugh, you may cry, you will certainly be surprised, and you will be inspired. Please – do not miss this amazing play and performance.

 

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