I didn’t have my hot date with me on Saturday evening as I attended the Penobscot Theatre Company’s production of Papermaker, written by Maine author and playwright, Monica Wood. Ever still, the bright lights and ushers welcomed me in, leading me to a seat in the cozy and nearly full theatre.
Since I was a kid, I have loved the theatre. I credit a lot of this to my grandmother, who has spent years involved in the arts. As a kid, I saw her come alive when she performed. She described to me the buzz of opening night, played me vinyl records (of herself!) and encouraged me to watch any production in awe—a high school play could still feel like an Oscar-winning movie.
I felt the familiar buzz of excitement as I waited for the play to begin.
Papermaker follows two families whose worlds are centered around a paper mill in the fictional town of Abbot Falls—but in two very different ways.
Henry John McCoy is the mill’s wealthy, New York-residing CEO who is dealing with his strained relationship with his daughter, Emily.
Ernie Donahue and his son, Jake, are millworkers on strike who are trying to cope with the Donahue matriarch, Marie’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Without giving away any spoilers, the two families meet in an unexpected way and are forced (while also compelled) to listen to each other’s stories.
Throughout the play, I thought of how this story could resonate with life in Bangor.
With recent mill closures in nearby Bucksport and Old Town, as well as Madison, East Millinocket and Lincoln, there is a direct connection to the difficulty young Mainers have in finding work and supporting a family. This is explored through Jake Donahue’s story-line, as the 21-year-old father and husband struggles to provide for his family following the strike.
On a broader scale, and perhaps what resonated with me the most, is the notion that we—all of us—whether a rich CEO or an out-of-work papermaker—we are all just trying to preserve life as we know it. We don’t want somebody else telling us what is right for us. We want the dignity to make our own decisions.
And yet, with this pride, a degree of empathy must remain.
I’m not suggesting that everything can be resolved and mills can be re-opened just by “talking things out.” This problem is caused by larger factors, including foreign competition and the obsession with the digital age (as I sit here and type this blog).
However, what Papermaker shows through a poignant, relatable and often humorous story, is what is sacrificed when we don’t have empathy for others—what happens when we choose to ignore the struggle of somebody different than us.
I believe this can be directly connected to life in Bangor.
Finding solutions, jobs and opportunities for young Mainers to stay in the state will take multiple approaches where people will have to work with each other even if they don’t normally see eye to eye.
What Papermaker shows is that for any real progress to occur in real-life, we at least have to try to understand and respect each other.