Portland Stage Company Presents The World Premiere Of READ TO ME The 2018 Clauder Competition Winner

By: Oct. 18, 2019

Read to Me by Brendan Pelsue is open for reviewers Friday, October 25 at 7:30 pm. Read to Me is a poignant story about a child with a terminal illness who connects delicate moments in unusual ways. Discovering the mysterious "Postal Service," he sends messages to the world and awaits a response. This poetic play, created through magical realism, reveals the quiet ways in which we connect.

"This play grew out of my own experience working with sick children," says Pelsue, "and then a chance encounter with an extraordinary book, The Private Worlds of Dying Children, by Myra Bluebond-Langner. In a literal sense, the play is about a child dying, but I also think it is about what the nurse says in her final speech, that 'what happens to all of us also has to happen to each of us in particular.'"

Read to Me was the grand prize winner of the 2018 and most recent cycle of the Clauder Competition. For over three decades, the Clauder Competition has been New England's most prestigious playwriting award. Created in 1981 by Jeb Brooks, who continues to underwrite the program, the Clauder Competition celebrates the distinctive voices of the region's playwrights and brings their work to the attention of the greater theatrical community, generating over 200 submissions each cycle. Past winners and finalists who have launched successful playwriting careers include Tom Coash, Adam Bock, Laura Harrington, Elizabeth Egloff, Bridget Carpenter, Melinda Lopez, Liz Duffy Adams, William Donnelly, Kim Rosenstock, and Pulitzer Prize-winners Quiara Alegría Hudes and Paula Vogel.

The playwright Brendan Pelsue is also a librettist, and translator whose work has been produced in New York and regionally. His play Wellesley Girl premiered at the Humana Festival of New American Plays. Hagoromo, a dance-opera piece for which he wrote the libretto, has appeared at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music and the Pocantico Center. Other work includes New Domestic Architecture at the Yale Carlotta Festival, Read to Me at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Lost Weekend with The Actors Theatre of Louisville Apprentice Company, Parking Lot, Riverbank: a Noh Play for Northerly Americans at the Yale School of Drama. Commissions include South Coast Repertory, American Opera Projects, Westport Country Playhouse, and The Actors Theatre of Louisville. He was a 2017 artist-in-residence at Chateau de la Napoule, France, where he produced the podcast We Are Not These People. He is currently working on an adaptation of Paul Harding's novel Tinkers, a new translation of Molière's Don Juan, and One Thousand Years of Music and Two Americans, a chamber opera, with composer Matthew Suttor. Originally from Newburyport, MA, he received his MFA from Yale School of Drama and his BA from Brown University, where he received the Weston Prize in playwriting.

Read to Me is directed by Rory Pelsue, a director of operas, musicals, new plays, and classics. Read to Me is his L.O.R.T. directing debut. Originally from Newburyport, Massachusetts, Rory received an MFA in directing from the Yale School of Drama and attained the Julian Milton Kaufman Memorial Prize for directing. As the brother of the playwright Brendan Pelsue, Rory has an intimate understanding of the play.

"The adults in this play are made aware of their mortality by their proximity with a dying child, which heightens their desire to make their short lives more meaningful by connecting. Their connections are often awkward or even painful. Their fumbling attempts at meaning make Read to Me such a joyous, funny, wise play, despite its gravity," explains Rory Pelsue.

"Because Brendan is such a big fan of Thornton Wilder, Our Town comes to mind, in which the already-dead Emily Webb ruefully asks the stage manager: 'Does any human being ever realize life while they live it-every, every minute.' To which he responds, 'No. The saints and poets, maybe, they do some.'

"The adult characters in Read to Me are not, by any stretch of the imagination, saints or poets-they are too self-involved, busy, bumbling, and often opaque to themselves for those rarified labels. But, more than most, being thrust into proximity to a dying child, they are made to realize life just a little bit more. And that is a joyful thing."

Read to Me centers around the character Tony, played by 12-year old Lukis Crowell, a 7TH grader at Freeport Middle School. Tony has always been a sickly child and has spent more of his life in the hospital than not. While he's a pretty smart kid, he's fallen through the cracks and isn't reading on the level he should-that's where his new tutor Lawrence, played by Brooklyn-based Actors Equity Association (AEA) actor Esaú Mora, comes in. Tony's interest in Lawrence's Elmo books quickly fades and the two start writing letters to the outside world to catch Tony's imagination. The catch is, while Lawrence, and Tony's father Sam, played by AEA actor Ian Carlsen, know that Tony is going to die, Tony himself has been left in the dark. When Tony starts asking hard questions, Lawrence isn't always willing to answer, so Tony turns to his letters and people all over the world respond. As Tony's health worsens, he forms a strong bond with Abigail Brightman, the oldest woman in Alaska, and their lives intertwine in this magical story about the bonds we forge, and how the things that happen to all of us, also happen to each of us in particular.

On the set, designed by Portland Stage's Executive and Artistic Director Anita Stewart, is a 9-foot circle and large clock that follows a unique time cycle. "The clock is part of the play," explains Stewart, "It is written into the stage directions and represents, to my thinking, the way that time seems to stretch and contract when you are dealing with big life events. When someone is ill, time morphs. It can seem that you are sitting and waiting for hours and nothing happens. Then there is an event and the world spins as time stands still. Brendan has noted where the clock moves in relation to the action. I've turned it into a moon or a night light hovering over the space."

Other AEA actors featured in the play are Grace Bauer (playing the Nurse), and Tom Ford (playing Elmo). Costume design is by Cole McCarty, lighting design by Bryon Winn (both members of the United Scenic Artist Union), sound design by Kathy Ruvuna, and stage-managed by Shane Van Vliet (a member of AEA).

Previews $32-$37; Sat & Sun Matinee $45-$65, All other performances $40-$60. All prices include a $3 ticket fee. Discounts are available for Seniors, Students, Rush35 and Groups. You can purchase tickets by calling the Box Office at 207-774-0465, or online at portlandstage.org/


Portland Stage encourages patrons to enhance their theater-going experience by participating in our community events revolving around our mainstage performances. To promote accessibility, each show will have one open caption performance for the hearing-impaired community.


Free and Open to the Public


Artist Perspective: 10/27

Curtain Call: 11/3

RUSH35: 35 & Under

Members Club Reception 10/23 at 6:30 pm

35 or Under are invited to join online

$15 Mainstage Tickets & Monthly Reception


11/1 at 7:30 pm


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