Bruce Pingree, beloved Portsmouth bartender, famed Halloween parade marshal, and longtime UNH blues radio host, will be appearing on stage as, well, pretty much himself in Billy Butler’s new musical, “The Brechtones,” coming to The Players’ Ring in Portsmouth, opening Friday, Oct. 12 and running through Sunday, Oct 28.
Pingree will play Death as a bartender in this experimental show that is a combination of theatre, beat-poetry, and music with a mix of blues, jazz, and a little bit of vaudeville.
“If you go to the bar, you will be served by Death,” said Butler, a local playwright who will also be starring in the production. “The show is a commentary on dysfunction, depression, addiction, and excess,” he added noting that every night will be unique because each performance features guest poets, who sign up for a spot to read their own work, with the live band improvising behind them.
For his part, Pingree is pretty excited to try his hand at stage acting, after a long career behind-the-scenes, on radio and at readings.
“They tell me I will be on stage almost all of the time since it’s my bar,” he said. “They just handed me some jokes and told me anything else that might happen is just improvisation.”
Directed by Jennifer Towle, “The Brechtones,” tells the story of an alcoholic musician playing the last gig of his life at a beat night. When a young poet, played by Haley DeValliere, reveals on stage that she is his long lost daughter, he descends into a haze of drugs and booze.
“I feel very honored and slightly terrified to be directing this show,” Towle said, “It’s a piece that is unlike anything else.”
According to Butler, this show was inspired largely from his own experience with his alcoholic father. “My dad died of alcoholism five years ago, but I lost him long before that,” Butler said, “It is deep and dark, but it is also funny and fun. I like to teeter on that edge of dark and light.”
In addition to Butler, Pingree, and DeValliere, the production includes a band of five musicians, who will play more than a dozen new songs written by Butler and improvise jams behind the guest poets.
“The Brechtones” takes place in a bar and Butler says it was partially inspired by the Beat Night at the Press Room, an iconic Portsmouth bar and music venue. Portsmouth Poet Laureate Mike Nelson, a frequent reader at Seacoast beat nights, is coordinating the various guest poets. Each performance will be as different as the poets who are invited to read on stage each night as part of the scripted open mic beat night.
Pingree, who has acted in staged readings with Seven Stages Shakespeare Co. of Portsmouth, noted that he will be on stage doing pretty much what he did for years as a bartender, except this time only with non-alcoholic drinks. His role as Death is reminiscent of his long-time role as grand marshal of the annual Halloween Parade in Portsmouth. There, he appeared as the Baron Samedi from Haitian Vodou – the leader of the collective spirits of the dead.
“The Brechtones” will be performed Oct. 12 to 28 at the Players’ Ring Theatre at 105 Marcy St. in Portsmouth with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $18 with discounts for students, seniors, and Players’ Ring members. Reservations can be made at playersring.org or 603-436-8123.