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


PRICE $10 online $15 at the door


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.

“Where are you? Because listen, I think… I think she may have like Magical Powers… I’m serious. Seriously. I’m serious. I know that sounds… But I’m serious…” Asian-American twins M and L have given up everything to get into The College. So when D, a one-sixteenth Native American classmate, gets “their” spot instead, they figure they’ve got only one option: kill him. A darkly comedic take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth about the very ambitious and the cut-throat world of high school during college admissions.

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

Featuring: Ophelia Hu Kinney, Erica Murphy, James Patefield, Mackenzie O’Connor, and Bari Robinson.

Jiehae Park (The Playwright) Jiehae Park's plays include peerless (Yale Rep premiere, Cherry Lane MP, Marin Theatre Co, Barrington Stage, First Floor, Company One, Moxie), Hannah and the Dread Gazebo (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Here We Are Here (Sundance Theater-Makers residency, Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor, Princess Grace Works-in-Progress @ Baryshnikov Arts Center), The Aves (McCarter Spotlight Festival), and contributions to Wondrous Strange (Humana/Actor’s Theatre of Louisville).

Her work has been developed through the Soho Rep Writer-Director Lab, the Public’s Emerging Writers Group, p73’s i73, Playwrights Horizons, CTG Writers Workshop, NYTW, Atlantic, Old Globe, Dramatists Guild Fellowship, Ojai Conference, BAPF, and the amazing Ma-Yi Writers Lab. Awards: Leah Ryan, Princess Grace, Weissberger, ANPF Women’s Invitational; two years on the Kilroys List. Commissions: Playwrights Horizons, Yale Rep, Geffen, OSF, Williamstown, MTC/Sloan. Residencies: MacDowell, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, McCarter/Sallie B. Goodman.

As a performer, she most recently appeared in Ripe Time, Naomi Iizuka's adaption of Murakami's Sleep (BAM Next Wave, Yale Rep) and Celine Song’s Endlings (ART). She is a NYTW Usual Suspect, Lincoln Center Theater New Writer in Residence, former Hodder Fellow, and current New Dramatist. TV: staff writer, season one of Marvel's Runaways. BA, Amherst; MFA, UCSD.

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.

L Ophelia Hu Kinney

M Erica Murphy

BF Bari Robinson

D James Patefield

Dirty Girl Mackenzie O'Connor

Director Todd Brian Backus

A Reading and Discussion

Iceberg Effect


PLAYWRIGHT Michèle Aldin Kushner

DIRECTOR Todd Brian Backus

Join us for a reading and discussion in our Storefront space.

A 13-year-old is stuck in the house with Zoom and a long-dead climate scientist icon while her mother, an oceanographer, battles workplace harassment and carbon emissions. Everyone wants to save the world.
Climate Change history, teenage pandemic frustration, and gender bias are explored in a touching mother-daughter story about the generational disconnect and the shared goal to save the earth. Which is more critical: action or information?
Iceberg Effect by Michèle Aldin Kushner is a new play in development. Originally written in July 2021 for a reading series held at Wells Reserve at Laudhom, in Wells, Maine, this reading at Portland Stage will feature a revised and expanded script. The play explores a need for climate awareness, existing gender bias in science, and the struggles one female climate change scientist faces. It’s also the story of her 13-year-old daughter’s aspirations to impact the world on her own terms.
This reading is presented in partnership with The Wells Reserve.

Michèle Aldin Kushner is a playwright and screenwriter. Her plays have been workshopped, staged and read throughout the country at theaters and festivals. She’s been a finalist and recipient of numerous playwriting awards. Her play, Radio Galaxy, has recently been optioned after its reading in the TRU Voices New Play Series. Her screenplay, 11 Months, was an Alfred P. Sloan award winner. Her play, Unfit, was workshopped and presented as a reading at Rider University, NJ. Her play, Abducted, was read at WorkShop Theatre Company September 2014 and The Barrow Group in April 2015. In August 2014, the musical she wrote with composer/ lyricist Keith Gordon, Girl Powers, was invited to the Santa Fe Musical Theatre Festival.  Michele has an MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts’ Dramatic Writing Program.

Lauren Rosen (Director) is a recent  emigré to the Seacoast from Brooklyn, NY; and has worked as  a freelance director for many years - in  film, theatre and opera, spanning New York to Honolulu. Passionate about engaging and mentoring emerging artists, she has worked as a teaching artist within the NY and NJ Public school system and has been a guest director and artist at SUNY Stony Brook, Fordham at Lincoln Center, The Hartt School and Johns Hopkins University. Lauren works in nonprofit arts management with a focus on community engagement and public programming. She is also the  Project Manager for the city of Portsmouth’s participation in Americans for the Arts’ Arts & Economic Prosperity 6 study.

Constance Witman (Wendy) just finished playing Gertrude in The Underpants at The Players Ring in Portsmouth NH. Her last endeavor was playing Elsa in The Sound of Music at Rochester Opera House. She has acted in a multitude of productions along the Seacoast as well as directed and produced with her own production company, Fearon Productions. Favorite roles include Mrs.Robinson in The Graduate, Marjorie in Extremities, Anna in Closer and  Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  at The Rep.  Constance  has been nominated several times and is the winner of Spotlight Award for her portrayal of Blanche in Streetcar Named Desire. Constance played a teacher in the PSA Stand Up and Step Forward by 03801 Productions, which won 3 Silver Telly Awards and 3 New England Emmys.

Whitney Smith (Eunice) a  forty-something mother of two, manager of a local garden center and long-time seacoast actor. In all her life roles the importance of changes in the environment, equality for women and balancing life and work are foremost on her mind. She hopes that being part of this reading helps amplify these causes through the art she loves.

Abigail Kaye’s (Ellie) credits include Into the Woods (Little Red), Dog sees god (Van’s sister) and A Midsummer Night's Dream (Puck) at UNH. Conflict of interest (Blain) and the staged reading of I Never Saw Another Butterfly (Raja) at The Firehouse, Prescott Park Arts Festival's Mary Poppins (Jane), Ogunquit Playhouse's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (choir member), Seacoast Repertory Theatre's production of Oliver (Bet) and New Theatre Works production of Missing Wynter (Wynter) and this summer The Sound of Music at Rochester Opera House (Liesl).

The Wells Reserve’s nimble, community-based, and revenue-diverse nonprofit arm, Laudholm Trust, develops the Reserve as a center for science, environmental education, and stewardship. With a long tradition of programming community gatherings, special performances, and innovative speakers; we aim to encourage our community members of all ages to critically engage with the present, imagine a better future and collaboratively act for sustainability.

Amy Sterndale (Moderator) is a Seacoast area business advisor with the SBDC. Amy is also the owner of Sterndale Strategic, a communications and marketing consulting firm, where she works with companies on rebranding, crisis communications, and creating powerful business stories to engage with stakeholders.  Amy worked at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire and at Random House, Inc. in New York. At Random House she was a marketing manager for Times Books, Times Business, and Random House Reference, promoting  books by leaders in government, health, technology, and business including current and past U.S. presidents. She received her MBA from UNH and is a past board member of the NH Women's Foundation and the Portsmouth Historical Society. She lives in Durham with her family.

Annie Ropeik (Speaker, Climate Journalist) is a freelance journalist based in Portland. She serves on the board of the Society of Environmental Journalists and works as assistant director of the Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk, a reporting collaborative based at the University of Missouri. Annie previously reported for Spectrum News Maine and spent about a decade as an award-winning local public radio reporter, including for New Hampshire Public Radio, where she founded the newsroom's climate desk, covered wildfire adaptation for NPR and co-hosted the special podcast series "Windfall." A Maryland native, Annie earned a B.A. in classics and philosophy from Boston University.

Dr. Linda Stathoplos (Speaker, Scientist) received her Ph.D. in Oceanography from the Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, in 1989. She worked for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for over 17 years, first managing biological oceanographic data archives, and then managing satellite ground systems to help monitor earth and space weather and sea level. She also worked in private industry for 8 years, making dynamic ocean maps for fishing customers. She has retired from NOAA and is now a consultant for Earth Resources Technology, Inc. She lives in Wells, Maine, with her husband, John Lillibridge.

Wendy Constance Witman

Eunice Whitney Smith

Ellie Abigail Kaye

Stage Directions Rachel Ropella

Playwright Michèle Aldin Kushner

Director Lauren Rosen

Moderator Amy Sterndale

Panelist Annie Ropeik

Panelist Dr. Linda Stathoplos

A Developmental Reading & Discussion

Saint Dad a Developmental Reading

PRICE $10 in advance. Pay-What-You-Can at the door, based on availability


DIRECTOR Todd Brian Backus

Join us for a developmental reading of Monica Wood’s latest play! Suzanne, Bud, and Denise made the tough decision to sell their childhood camp when their father was at death’s door, but now that he’s made a miraculous recovery, they’re doing everything in their power to make sure he doesn’t find out. The new owner, Leona, gets more than she bargained for when all three siblings, and her college-bound daughter all unexpectedly drop by. Following the reading there will be a discussion with the playwright, director, and cast.

This reading is followed by a discussion.

Masks are recommended but not required for this reading and discussion.

Monica Wood (Playwright) is a novelist, memoirist, and playwright, the 2019 recipient of the Carlson Prize for contributions to the public humanities, and the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance Distinguished Achievement Award for contributions to the literary arts. Her new novel, How to Read a Book, is forthcoming from Mariner Books, and a new play, Saint Dad, will debut in October 2023 at Portland Stage. Her previous novel, The One-in-a-Million Boy, was translated into 20 languages in over 30 countries. She is also the author of When We Were the Kennedys, a New England bestseller, Oprah magazine summer-reading pick, and winner of the May Sarton Memoir Award. Her other fiction, Any Bitter Thing, Ernie’s Ark, and My Only Story have also won awards and made bestseller lists. Her short stories have been widely anthologized, and her nonfiction has appeared in Oprah, New York Times, Literary Hub, Down East, Martha Stewart Living, Parade, and many other publications. She lives in Portland, Maine, with her husband and their cat, Susie..

Brent Askari (Bud) is thrilled to be workshopping a new play by Monica Wood! He is a member of Mad Horse Theater company and last appeared at PSC in Monica’s The Half Light. As a playwright, Brent is the winner of the National New Play Network’s Smith Prize For Political Theater for his play The Refugees, which was workshopped at Gulfshore Playhouse earlier this year. His latest play, Andy Warhol In Iran, received a world premiere at Barrington Stage Company in 2022, winning the award for Best New Play by the Berkshires Theatre Critics Association; it is currently in production at Northlight Stage in Chicago. Other plays include Hard Cell (PlayPenn Conference, produced at Geva Theatre Center), American Underground (produced at Barrington Stage Company), and White Party (semi-finalist O’Neill Conference, Finalist Bay Area Playwrights Festival and Ashland New Play Festival). Brent is an associate artist with the National New Play Network.

Grace Bauer (Denise) Grace 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 enjoyed playing bucket-list role Amanda in The Glass Menagerie at Rep Stage in Columbia, Maryland this year. 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), Blithe Spirit, Our Town (Theater at Monmouth). 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.

Tom Bloom (Chummy O’Brien) PSC: Papermaker, Ma Rainey, Last Gas. Broadway: Cyrano, Henry IV,Racing Demon. Off-Broadway: Playwrights’ Horizon, MTC, MCC, Circle-In-Square, Lincoln Center, Classic Stage, Pearl Theatre, NYSF, TFANA. Regional: ACT, Yale Rep, Guthrie, DCShakes, Hartford Stage, Hartford Theatreworks, Williamstown, Baltimore Center, Portland Center (ORE), Huntington, McCarter, Two Rivers, Gloucester, Monmouth, Coconut Grove, others. Film/TV: Thomas Crown Affair, Elementary, Swan Song, Joshua, Emperor’s Club, Sly Like a Fox, Best Thief in the World, L&O, Special Victims, Criminal Intent, Ed, Max Bickford, The Jury, Wonderland.

Emma Mayberry (Thomasina) is a senior at Cape Elizabeth High School and has been participating in theatre since she was in seventh grade. One of her most recent credits was the role of Penny in When We Were Young and Unafraid by Sarah Treem at Mad Horse Theatre. In the fall, she will be attending New York University’s Tisch School of the arts to study acting and work to become a professional performing artist. Emma is so excited to be a part of this reading, and has enjoyed working with the incredibly talented actors and actresses in the process. She is happy to be working on a project at Portland Stage for the first time!

Casey Turner (Suzanne) received her BA in Theatre from the University of Southern Maine. As an actor, Casey has been a part of the Maine theater scene since she was a teenager. She began producing in 2013 working on TV documentaries, receiving an Emmy nomination for her work on America’s Hidden Stories for the Smithsonian Channel. Casey is currently focusing on the audio world, producing, directing, and acting in audiobooks, audio dramas, podcasts, and commercials.

Isabelle Van Vleet (Leona) is a California native currently residing in Maine. She is delighted to be back at Portland Stage! Regional: Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure (Portland Stage). Favorite New York theater credits include: SIGN (Off-Broadway), ASAP Live (Barclay’s Center), Honor the musical (Prospect Theatre Co.), The Rules (Joust Theatre Co.), Spring Awakening (NYU Tisch/Atlantic); Television: FBI: Most Wanted (CBS), Inventing Anna (Netflix/Shonda Rhimes), The Making of Peter Pan Live (NBC). Heartfelt thanks to my manager Deborah at AAG Talent, my wonderful husband Alessandro, mom, dad & rescue dog Mika for their endless love and support! Proud member of SAG-AFTRA, AEA, and NYU Tisch Alum.

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 or

Rachel Ropella (Assistant Director and Dramaturg) is a Midwestern director and theater maker. She is a graduate of St. Olaf College, DirectorWorks, and the O’Neill’s National Theater Institute. Co-founder of Melancholics Anonymous, an award-winning theatre company based in Minneapolis, she’s spent the past four years directing new works at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. Other directing credits include: Proof, Horse Girls, and It’s a Wonderful Life. She is currently a Directing and Dramaturgy Apprentice at Portland Stage. @rachel_ropella

Bud Brent Askari

Denice Grace Bauer*

Chummy O'Brien Tom Bloom*

Thomasina Emma Mayberry

Suzanne Casey Turner

Leona Isabelle Van Vleet*

Director Todd Brian Backus

Asst. Director & Dramaturg Rachel Ropella

Maine State Music Theatre & Portland Stage present

Smoke on the Mountain

RUN TIME Approximately 2 hours including intermission

PRICE PRICE $25-$75 • discounts - seniors 65+; groups of 10 or more

PLAYWRIGHT Book by Connie Ray, Conceived by Alan Bailey

MUSIC & LYRICS arrangements by Mike Craver and Mark Hardwick

DIRECTOR Jeff Stockberger

About the Play

Book by Connie Ray
Conceived by Alan Bailey
Musical arrangements by Mike Craver and Mark Hardwick

Smoke on the Mountain tells the hilarious and heartwarming story of a Saturday Night Gospel Sing at a country church in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1938. The show features two dozen rousing bluegrass songs played and sung by the Sanders Family, a traveling group making its return to performing after a five-year hiatus – Concord Theatricals

Smoke on the Mountain is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc.

Connie Ray (Book Writer) is a playwright and actress who divides her time between LA and NYC. She wrote the musicals Smoke on the Mountain, Sanders Family Christmas and Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, three of Samuel French’s most popular titles. Her musicals and plays have been produced off-off-Broadway, off-Broadway, regionally and around the world.

On Broadway, she appeared in Hands on a Hardbody, Next Fall and The Heidi Chronicles. Films include Flags of Our Fathers, Thank You For Smoking, About Schmidt and Hope Floats, among others. TV: Star of The Torkelsons, recurring guests on The Big C, Justified and Entourage, among many others.

Alan Bailey (Conceiver) co-authored one of the country’s most frequently produced musicals, Smoke on the Mountain, which ran more than 500 performances at the Lamb’s Theatre in New York, garnering award nominations from the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation. It was named one of the ten best plays of the year by Time magazine, The New York Times, and the Associated Press. Smoke on the Mountain and its sequels Sanders Family Christmas and Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming are among Samuel French’s most frequently produced plays.

Additionally, Mr. Bailey has written eight plays that have been produced regionally; he contributed to the musical scores of six of these shows, including the cult favorite Henry the 8th at the Grand Ole Opry. His play Wedding Belles was a semi-finalist for the American Theatre Critics Association’s Harold and Mimi Steinberg New Play Award, recognizing the best plays of the year that premiered professionally outside New York City.

Alan, a Macon, Georgia native, is a five-time undefeated Jeopardy champion and multi-tournament Jeopardy veteran. Additionally, he is not only one of the few humans to defeat IBM’s computer Watson in a Jeopardy match, he holds the record for having beat that fearsome son-of-a-bitch computer by the biggest margin of any player who lived to tell it.

Mike Craver (Co-Musical Arranger) is a North Carolina-based songwriter, actor, and composer. Off-Broadway credits include The Oil City Symphony (co-author and original cast member, cast recording, Drama Desk award), Smoke on the Mountain (arrangements, published by Samuel French), Radio Gals (co-author and original cast member, cast recording, LA Ovation award, published by Samuel French), Wilder (co-author and original cast), original music for Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind, and Bland Simpson and Jim Wann’s Diamond Studs (cast recording and band). Mike also arranged and wrote original material for Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming (published by Samuel French).

He has worked in theatres across the country, including the Pasadena Playhouse, Actors Theatre of Louisville, and the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, MA. Commissioned work includes three musicals (Bosh and Moonshine, The Belle of Wabash, Sarah Bernhardt in Texas, and Oklahoma Hale and Damnation) based on a troupe of actors and musicians touring the American West during the 19th century. Mike collaborated with southern novelist Clyde Edgerton on a musicalization of Edgerton’s novel Lunch at the Piccadilly.

Mike graduated from the University of North Carolina and was a member of the Red Clay Ramblers for many years. Recorded work includes nine Red Clay Ramblers albums. Craver has released three solo albums – Fishing for Amour, Wagoner’s Lad and Shining Down – and recordings of two musical projects with Clyde Edgerton – Lunch at the Piccadilly and The Bible Salesman. He currently plays with the old time string band Craver, Hicks, Watson & Newberry. (Photo by McIntyre Photography).

Mark Hardwick  (Co-Musical Arranger) composed the music for the 1975 Broadway production of Of Mice and Men and co-wrote the musical Oil City Symphony.

Rev. Mervin Oglethorpe John Vessels Jr.*

Burl Sanders Larry Tobias*

Vera Sanders April Lee Uzarski*

Stanley Sanders Andrew Crowe*

Denise Sanders Elleon Dobias

Dennis Sanders Daniel Emond*

June Sanders Sarah Hund*

[*member of Actors' Equity Association]

Director Jeff Stockberger

Musical Director Andrew Crowe

Scenic Designer Anita Stewart**

Costume Designer Kathleen Payton Brown

Light Designer Jamie Grant

Sound Designer Chris Fitze

Stage Manager Meg Lydon*

Assistant Stage Manager Grace Kellar-Long

[*member of Actors Equity Association]

[** member of United Scenic Artists]

[***member of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society]

Jeff Stockberger

Jehn Vessels Jr. (AEA)

Larry Tobias (AEA)

April Lee Uzarski

Andrew Crowe (AEA)

Elleon Dobias

Daniel Emond (AEA)

Sarah Hund (AEA)

Show Gallery