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Scary stories to be told in the dark – ‘Ghost Postcards from Maine’

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BANGOR – Penobscot Theatre’s latest production is something quite different, a phantasmagoric feast … for the ears.

The first production as part of Digitus Theatrum, PTC’s all-digital season, is “Ghost Postcards from Maine,” an original audio experience featuring five new tales of terror from Maine writers and brought to life by some of your PTC favorites. The streaming show is available through November 8 and is available at www.penobscottheatre.org or by contacting their box office at 942-3333.

The theatre commissioned five writers – Travis Baker, Sam Collier, Carrie Jones, Michael Kimball and Robin Clifford Wood – to create new stories inspired by some of Maine’s ghostly legends. These stories run the thematic and stylistic gamut, each lending a unique perspective on some of our state’s scariest stories. Some will likely be familiar, while others will be new to you, but regardless, the end product here is an audio experience unlike anything you’ve ever heard, a ghoulishly good time for this Halloween season.

We’ll start with the story that serves as the overall framework. “Riceville” is written by PTC’s interim managing director Jen Shepard and serves as the structure upon which the anthology hangs. Neil Graham is the voice of a mysterious man, a gravedigger of some sort searching for something left behind in the ruined remains of the town in which he and his brother – who may or may not have come to an unfortunate and untimely end – grew up. This story runs throughout the piece, serving as both beginning and end and appearing between the other five tales.

First up is “Bridge Girl,” by Michael Kimball. Voiced by Bari Newport, it’s the story of a young girl struggling through life, forced out of school and into a factory by her domineering father. All the while, she is haunted by the memory of Johnny Flowers, a boy a couple of years older who met with tragedy on the local train bridge. Her own memories are somehow both clear and fuzzy simultaneously, leaving us to wonder how reliable her rendition of the tale might be.

From there, we get “Flagstaff.” As written by Travis Baker and brought to life by Ben Layman, it’s a diptych of sorts, a back-and-forth past-and-present tale. On one side, we have the years-ago story of a family preparing for the municipally-ordered flooding of their town. On the other, a vacationing mother and daughter learn that floodwaters run deep and murky, with no way of knowing what lies beneath. And as these tales drift toward one another, the depths only increase.

Next is “The Ballad of Hadlock, The Seal Hunter Showman.” This piece is written in verse, an epic poem of the crimes and misdeeds of one Samuel Hadlock, a man whose lust for the material world led him to become a conman and grifter of some renown. As spoken by James Konicek, this piece is lilting and melodic even as it delves into the cruelties unleashed by this selfish, terrible man. The beauty of the rhythm clashes just so with the ugliness of the actions described.

“Vacationland” – written by Sam Collier and voiced by A.J. Mooney – turns the seemingly benign Maine state nickname into something much darker. A woman decides to embrace the many changes in her life and embark on a solo camping trip in an isolated Maine spot. However, when the weather turns against her, she makes her way to the safety of the only nearby structure – an old house. Well – the only perceived safety, as she quickly finds far more than she bargained for within its walls.

Last on the list is the aptly-titled “Scary Story, penned by Carrie Jones and voiced by Molly Hagerty. It takes the form of a letter, written to the Kardashian family by a young Bucksport woman who seeks to escape her extremely haunted hometown. All these ghosts lead her and her mother to move from place to place, winding up as semi-permanent residents of a local campground. But even that place isn’t free from hauntings – a reality she’s forced to accept in a rather gruesome manner.

And that’s “Ghost Postcards from Maine.” It’s a wonderfully macabre collection, one that is diverse in subject, yet united in tone, each story brought together thanks to the well-realized framing of “Riceville.” Each of these tales stands alone, yet they also fit together as a cohesive whole. I don’t know how much crossover collaboration there was between the writers – if any – but in any case, the connections are there.

Of course, none of these stories would be fully effective were they not well told. The cast of “Ghost Postcards from Maine” is an exceptional collection of talent. Newport perfectly captures the naivete of the young narrator in “Bridge Girl.” As for Layman and “Flagstaff,” I’d argue that there’s no one in the area as gifted at telling scary stories as he is – this is no exception. Konicek perfectly captures the rhythms inherent to “The Ballad of Hadlock,” his vocal work mirroring the rising and falling waves of the open sea. Mooney manages to be both sharp and scared in her reading of “Vacationland.” Hagerty’s evocation of a teenage girl – one whose basic teen-ness is present even when she’s terrified – is note-perfect for something like “Scary Story.” And Graham – no stranger to scare-inducing voice work – is an excellent fit as the de facto narrator of it all.

There is some interstitial imagery courtesy of Magnus Stark, but the truth is that “Ghost Postcards” isn’t about what you see with your eyes, but rather within your mind’s eye. And lest we forget, credit for the effectiveness of all this should be shared with Graham and Sean McGinley, who worked on designing and engineering the sound of the piece.

The stories that are spun are vivid and visceral, brought to terrifying fruition by the expansive vocal talents of the cast involved. They dig their cold fingers into your imagination and delight in the scares that they evoke. “Ghost Postcards from Maine” offers a glimpse at the sorts of innovation we can expect from Digitus Theatrum.

Perhaps you should listen to it in the dark if you dare. But if you do, be warned – you might well need to sleep with the lights on.

Last modified on Wednesday, 21 October 2020 06:45

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