On Wednesday of last week I pulled into the Jordan’s Farm parking lot at 12:15 in the afternoon. I was there to speak with Neftali, a seasonal worker and a nephew of the infamous Pee Wee. Tali has been at Jordan’s for at least five seasons. I have known him for over three years, having first picked beans and cucumbers with him during my earliest visits to the farm in the summer of 2008. Tali has been an active supporter of our project, keeping newspaper clippings that documented our progress, donating his copies of “Que Pasa!” (a magazine about Puerto Rico, his birthplace), and attending every event we’ve invited him to. In early August, he auditioned for our play, and on Wednesday of last week I wanted to offer him the role of Omar. Since he and Pee Wee always take their lunch from 12 to 1, I knew that it would be a good time to catch him.
During my drive to Jordan’s that afternoon, I had been in the middle of solving a somewhat unrelated problem. We had agreed to be part of Curtain Up!, a “kickoff to the Portland theater season” presented by Acorn Productions as part of the First Friday art walk. Fourteen theater companies would be presenting brief performances and I had no idea what our contribution would be. “I wonder if Penny would do it . . .?” I mused. Penny had recently accepted the role of Karen in our final production and it would be easy to read one of her scenes as part of the event. It was very late notice, however, Penny had had not one single rehearsal . . . it seemed like an unfair request. I dropped the thought and returned to the business of casting a play.
I joined Pee Wee and Tali at the shaded picnic table and asked how they had weathered the storm. Pee Wee had lost power for about two days and had some tree damage on his property. Tali, who lives in South Portland near me, had nothing to report. We discussed their work for the day – they are picking beans, still summer squash, still cucumbers. Pee Wee informed me that he would choose the job of harvesting green beans over cucumbers any day. And then I asked Tali if he would be in the play. After inquiring about the rehearsal schedule, he agreed to play the role of Omar.
I headed back to my car, but found myself changing direction to enter the farm stand instead. I found myself standing in front of Penny. I found myself asking her if she would be willing to read at the event on Friday. To my surprise, Penny said that if the timing of our performance slot worked into her day, she would do it. Multiple e-mails later, we had arranged for Penny’s participation in Curtain Up. “Boy I must like you a lot,” she said in one message. “I have stage fright already!”
On Friday, we assembled a portion of our cast in public for the first time. Penny drove over from the farm stand, read her role, and headed back to the stand just in time to close. Emma Cooper, daughter of Stacy Brenner at Broadturn, read her role of Sidney. Also joining us were Jesse James as Harry and Jeff Wax as Mitch.
We read three brief scenes, and when we finished, Penny said: “It’s really coming together! It’s been a long time since our first meeting at Flatbread.” Whew. No kidding. Three and a half years, to be exact. Three and a half years ago Penny helped me plan this project. A year ago she taught me how to pick peas. Last week, she stepped onto an outdoor stage in a public square in front of a respectable audience, and to those people, she read our play. And next month . . .