News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, November 15, 2012
Art and history combine in study of Malaga Island

by Jessica Brophy

On November 16 and 17, Deer Isle-Stonington students will transform one of Maine’s tragedies—the willful destruction of one of its island communities—into an inspiring story of doing the right thing.

The Reach Performing Arts Center will offer two performances of its fall production, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Friday, November 16, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, November 17, at 2 p.m.

One hundred years ago this year, the state of Maine assisted residents of neighboring Phippsburg in forcibly evicting a population of mixed-race residents from Malaga Island, destroying the island community and the 45 lives there, according to a news release.

The state has turned the centennial into an exhibit at the Maine State Museum, “Malaga Island, Fragmented Lives.” Award-winning author Gary Schmidt turned it into a novel for young adults.

Playwright Cheryl West adapted Schmidt’s tale of forbidden friendship and social tumult for the stage. The Deer Isle-Stonington production of this new play is part of an ongoing collaboration between the Reach Performing Arts Center and Opera House Arts.

“We’re taking advantage of this historic milestone in Maine history to provide learning opportunities for our own island community, as well as challenging our students with really complex dramatic themes,” said Morgan Witham, director of the Reach Performing Arts Center and of the production.

“The show deals with blatant racism and economic disparity,” said Witham. She said the students have handled the material and themes very well. Teachers of students who will see the play have been provided with “cue sheets” that provide historical context and suggest discussions to have about the play and the island’s history.

The drama employs a singular friendship between Lizzie, a young black girl played by seventh-grader Amy Friedell, and Turner Buckminster, the white son of a newly hired minister, played by fifth-grader Ian Cust, to examine the histories of race and economic difference on the Maine coast. Similar scenarios of economic downturn, gentrification, and the resulting social strife continue to play out in Maine and across the country.

In addition to the production, the Reach and school are collaborating with Opera House Arts to bring novelist Gary D. Schmidt to the middle school on Wednesday, November 28, and to take all middle school students to Augusta to explore the Maine State Museum exhibit on Thursday, November 29. Tickets for both performances are available at the door. For more information visit the Reach’s Facebook page, or AtTheReach.com.