‘The Pavement Artist’ takes shape in Portsmouth

August 29. 2018 2:45PM
“The Pavement Artist,” by Lynne Cullen of Portland, Maine, is a tale of love, war and the power of art. It centers on a war veteran who is obsessively painting a mural. It opens Friday at The Players’ Ring in Portsmouth. For ticket information visit playersring.org. 

PORTSMOUTH — A painting degree, experience in storytelling and a 100-year-old book about the artist Gaughin all influenced playwright Lynne Cullen of Portland, Maine, when she wrote “The Pavement Artist.”

The drama, speckled with humor, opens Friday and runs through Sept. 16 at the Players’ Ring on Marcy Street.

This tale of love, war, and the power of art opens the Players’ 27th season with the story of a Vietnam vet obsessively painting a mural in a parking lot outside a corporation.

Set in an un-named American city 20 years after the last American combat soldier left Vietnam, “The Pavement Artist” introduces audiences to Saylor, a muralist who has always worked alone but suddenly finds himself very much with company.

The script grew out of a monologue Cullen wrote several years ago for a playwriting workshop.

“As I was writing this play, the obsessions of an artist began to insert itself,” Cullen said, recalling that she kept re-reading a W. Somerset Maugham 1919 novel, “The Moon and Sixpence,” inspired by the life of Paul Gaughin. “I personally am not that kind of obsessed person, but here was this unlikeable man consumed with the need to create art.”

Cullen wrote this trait into Saylor, her pavement artist, who is portrayed by Gavin Barbour of Kittery, Maine.

“I like the idea that he has to do what he is doing. He doesn’t have a choice,” Cullen said.

Cullen hoped it could be directed by Marina Altschiller of Portsmouth. Altschiller also directed Cullen’s play “Waiting for Jack” at the Ring two years ago, and it left an impression.

“She’s very innovative. Two years ago I went to one or two rehearsals and I could see immediately she had such an interesting way of working with actors,” Cullen said.

Altschiller was drawn to the characters in Cullen’s play and the fact that all the action takes place at the site of the mural. She likes the simplicity of the single setting as a vehicle for bringing more depth to the characters.

“Lynne is good at capturing a character,” said Altschiller. “She has very natural-feeling and realistic dialogue. Even in dramatic situations where things are coming to a head, the dialogue feels very real, which makes going through the back story a fun task for actors and directors.”

Dean Diggins of Kittery, Maine, part of the artistic committee that chose plays for this season, said he also was drawn to the dialogue in “The Pavement Artist.”

“It was a touching story about a muralist, brothers and the war,” Diggins said, “with family secrets, surprises. and unexpected actions.”


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