Too Strange to Live, Too Weird to Die - A Staged Reading Series presents

A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes

Playwright Kate Benson

Dates Saturday, July 9 • 7:00 pm

$10 online $15 at the door

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About the Play

Too Strange to Live, Too Weird to Die is back!
This reading series, curated by Literary Manager Todd Brian Backus, features beautiful and bizarre plays that stretch the limits of the theatrical imagination.

“For those of you just tuning in, Thanksgiving is already in progress here at Wembly kitchen. The stands are nice and full, it’s quite a crowd that’s gathered. They’re in for a real treat.” As the lights go up on A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes we’re greeted by the dulcet tones of sports commentators as an all-American family gets ready for the original bloodsport, Thanksgiving Dinner.

Funded in part by a grant from
the Maine Arts Commission.

Featuring: Grace Bauer*, Sarabeth Connelly, Kim Gordon, James Herrera, Jared Mongeau, Erica Murphy, James Patefield, Nathan Sylvester, Tess Van Horn, and Maya Williams.

About the Playwright

Kate Benson

Kate Benson (Playwright) Kate Benson is a writer and actor living in Brooklyn. Her plays include A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes, produced by New Georges in 2014, [PORTO], Lee Miller, and Radium Now. She is a member of the Jam at New Georges, and she is a graduate of the Brooklyn College MFA Playwriting program. She has had readings and showings of her work at Dixon Place, 13th St. Theater, Jimmy’s No. 43, and the Room at New Georges. As an actor, she has appeared at the Public, NYTW, the Flea, PS 122, the Incubator, and LaMama.

Cast and Creative Team

Meet the Directors and the Cast

Todd Brian Backus (Director)  is a new works director, dramaturg, illustrator, and literary manager based in Portland, Maine. He likes to work on “weird theatre” by which he means: Sci-fi plays about absentee voting, Chekhovian cavemen plays, time-traveling gentrification musicals for kids, and plays that combine poetry, swordplay, and ghosts. He’s hoping this series will get more people interested in plays outside the living room. Todd is a co-producer of Dungeons + Drama Nerds, a podcast that explores the intersection of theatre and tabletop roleplaying games, a co-founder and Artistic Producer with PowerOut, and a co-founder and producer of Hot Pepper Theater. Find him just about everywhere @tbbackus.


Macey Downs (Assistant Director) is a Directing & Dramaturgy Apprentice at Portland Stage with a passion for new play development. At Portland Stage, Macey assistant directed Perseverance by Callie Kimball dir. Jade King Carroll and Where We Stand by Donnetta Lavinia Grays dir. Kevin R. Free. In 2020, she earned her BA at Bard College as a double major in Theater & Performance and Sociology. She completed a senior project in directing with the premiere of a new play titled this is the knot in my stomach by Phil Carroll, which she remounted in NY Winterfest in November 2021. She has also directed scenes or productions of the following plays: Eurydice, The Wolves, Bluebird, Richard III, Being Norwegian, and Fun Home.


Nathan Sylvester (#) This is Nathan’s second time reading with Portland Stage, having previously performed as Telemachus in 2018’s From Away Festival. He is a graduate of the University of Maine at Farmington with a BFA in performance and has worked in theatre and film since 2015, with notable performances as Wadsworth in Clue with the Waterville Opera House, and Senior Gremio in The Taming of the Shrew with the Camden Shakespeare Festival. His right hand was also featured in a Domino’s® commercial, so that’s pretty cool.  


Jared Mongeau (@) is a Maine-based actor, physical comedian, and musician. He began his career touring with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus and graduated from the MFA program at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in California. In the Trenches, his thesis has appeared internationally, including on the main stage at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, the largest theater festival in North America. He originated the role of the Mad Hatter in Jane Doe in Wonderland: Theater Against Sex Trafficking, which toured northern California and was featured on CNN. Recent local productions include Significant Other at Good Theater, Dragons Love Tacos at the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine, and the 25th Anniversary of A Christmas Carol at Portland Stage. At this year’s PortFringe Festival, he won two awards for his solo-clown performance Bloomers LeFaye Walks into the Future. Next month he will appear in the first annual Portland Theater Festival’s production of Pass Over. Other career highlights include working with Honda, Samuel Adams, and Harvard Business School; his two-hander Aardvark Boat Tours performing for the U.S. Association of Fringe Festivals; and playing accordion on London’s West End.


Kim Gordon (Snap Dragon) is delighted to be working with the PSC team again after being in the cast of Medea and in Bess Welden’s Refuge/Malja at the Little Festival of the Unexpected. Gordon is an actor, voice artist, and theater educator who has appeared in Maine with Good Theater, Snowlion Repertory Theater, Penobscot Theater Company, Polyphonic Theater Company, PortFringe, and The Theater Project. She was a company member for 16 years at Theater at Monmouth, performing Shakespeare and other classical theater.


James Herrera (GrandDada) James Herrera recently celebrated his 23rd year of being from away.  Mad Horse:The Goat, The History Boys, Stupid F*cking Bird. Maine State Ballet: Six turns as Drosselmeyer in the Nutcracker. PortFringe: Naked Lunch. Richard II/York for Portland Shakespeare Company. Cock for Dramatic Repertory Company. Voicework: Final Rune/The Cleansed, Audible: Starstruck & X-Files/Stolen Lives. He studied at The New Actor’s Workshop in NYC and the Mid-Summer at Oxford program at BADA in the UK; James is a graduate of MGSA/Rutgers University.


Grace Bauer (Trifle) is a Canadian-American actor based in Maine. She is an Artistic Associate at Portland Stage, where she recently appeared in the world premieres of Senior Living and Read to Me. She played Amanda in The Glass Menagerie this spring at Rep Stage in Columbia, Maryland. Also at Rep Stage, she originated the roles of Etta Cone in All She Must Possess and Susan in Technicolor Life, and sang poorly as Florence Foster Jenkins in Souvenir. Other favorites: Who’s Holiday, Homer Bound; A Comedy of Tenors (Good Theater); The Importance of Being Earnest (Portland Stage); Other Desert Cities, Trevor (Mad Horse); Three Sisters (Fenix); Every Christmas Story Ever Told, Blithe Spirit, Knight of the Burning Pestle, Our Town (Theater at Monmouth); Love and Information (Lorem Ipsum). Film: Helen, Tell Me No Lies, Boot Camp, Nice People, Sarah’s Room, Peppercorn Heart, Dark Arc. TV: Psych, The 4400, Romeo 2, Godiva’s, Masters of Horror. Proud member of Actors Equity Association and ACTRA. MFA: USC.


Tess Van Horn (Cherry Pie) is a director, performer and teaching artist based in Portland, Maine. She holds a BA in Theater from Sarah Lawrence and is currently pursuing an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts with a Performance Concentration from Goddard College (class of ’22). As a founding member of Lorem Ipsum Theater Collective she directed such productions as Ubu Roi, Blood Wedding, and Threepenny Opera among others. She has worked as a screen and voice actor in commercials and local films as well as directed/acted with Fenix Theater, Good Theater, Hinge/Works, Mad Horse Theatre, Maine Playwright’s Festival, Portland Stage, Theater @ Monmouth, The Children’s Museum & Theater of Maine, and The University of Southern Maine. Additionally, she directs/creates theater with young people via STAGES Youth Theater and Portland Stage’s Theater for Kids as well as teaches Intro to Acting and Public Speaking at the University of Southern Maine and Southern Maine Community College.


Sarabeth Connelly (Cheesecake) has returned to the stage and comes back swinging with her most recent work with StoneCoast Workshops and staged readings with Portland Stage. She has joined Brie’s Best Guests LLC out of Portland, Maine as their Tiger Princess to embrace her joy for fiction and provide young audiences with sensory-safe experiences state wide. 

Rather than seeking the mainstage, Sarahbeth dedicates herself to helping local artists imagine and reconstruct their final vision. She actively seeks work in play development, workshops, one-acts, and staged-readings that allow her to play between genres. Her days are filled primarily with classes, but you’d never know as she always brings the heat!


Erica Murphy (Smilesinger, Republican’s Wife, Trainer & Trainer’s Partner, and The Wives of the Twins) is an actor, educator, and movement specialist based in Portland. In Maine, she has performed and worked with Portland Stage, Good Theater, Mad Horse Theatre Company, Fenix Theatre Company, Ziggurat Theater, Theater at Monmouth, and The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine. She has also performed in world premieres in Chicago and New York City. Some favorite recent productions include Balloonacy (The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine), Eurydice (Fenix Theatre Company), Ninshaba (Ziggurat Theater), and As You Like It (Theater at Monmouth). Erica is a certified Feldenkrais practitioner, and a graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University and the Jacques Lecoq International School of Theater in Paris. She is represented by Dirigo Talent, works as a Play Associate at The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, and teaches theater at the University of Southern Maine.


James Patefield (Fred, Ed, Ned, Smilesinger’s Husband, Republican, The Twins, and Runnerman) is thrilled to be back reading for TSTLTWTD! He is a Portland-based actor, director, and fight choreographer. He has been Director of Audience Services/Community Engagement at PortFringe, Maine’s Fringe Festival, one half of Wolpertinger Battalion, and an education artist at Portland Stage. He helped found Bare Portland and helped make a lot of plays about and featuring the beauty of trash, including Storage and The Yellow Wallpaper. Other favorite local credits include A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Fenix Theatre Co. (co-director), The Song Bird with Stages, The Explorer’s Club with Mad Horse (Walling), Arsenic and Old Lace with Portland Stage (Teddy), and Wolpertinger Battalion’s Pity Party. His fight choreography has also been seen in 60Grit’s Bug and Bare Portland’s Macbeth, of which he was also co-director.


Maya Williams (Gumbo, ey/they/she) is currently Portland, Maine’s seventh poet laureate. Ey has performed in shows such as Storage with Bare Portland, The Rocky Horror Picture Show with Consensual Daydreamers, and 12 Impassioned Women with Portland Stage. You can find them as one of the three artists of color to represent Maine in The Kennedy Center’s Art Across America series. You can also follow her work on her website

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