John Cariani is putting his New York connections to work to help a tiny arts organization in his northern Maine hometown raise enough money to keep operating.

Cariani, a playwright and Tony Award-nominated actor starring in the hit musical “The Band’s Visit” on Broadway, recruited Tony winners Tony Shalhoub, Katrina Lenk and many of his castmates to perform a one-night benefit in Manhattan for the Wintergreen Arts Center in Presque Isle, which offers arts programs to children and adults.

The arts center is facing financial pressure, which Cariani read about in the local paper, prompting him to ask his acting friends for help. Members of the original Broadway cast will present “The Band Visits Cariani” at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 1 at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center on West 42nd Street. The theatrical evening will feature scenes from Cariani’s plays. Tony and Olivier Award nominee Moritz von Stuelpnagel will direct.

Shalhoub, who graduated from the University of Southern Maine, and Lenk will be joined by Bill Army, Layan Elwazani, Adam Kantor, Pomme Koch, Andrew Polk, Rachel Prather, Ahmad Maksoud, James Rana, Jonathan Raviv, Sharone Sayegh and Kristen Sieh.

Shalhoub won a Tony for his role in the musical, which he has since left.

“I’m overjoyed to be reunited with the cast of ‘The Band’s Visit,’ even for just one night,” he said in a statement. “And I can’t think of a better reason than to celebrate the work of John Cariani. Not unlike ‘The Band’s Visit,’ John’s plays speak both to the present moment and the greater human condition – and they give voice to some people who are overlooked and aren’t very well represented in contemporary American art and culture. Oh, and they’re also really funny.”

“The Band’s Visit,” which is based on a 2007 Israeli film and opened on Broadway in November, won 10 Tonys this spring, including best musical.

Cariani has written four plays, including “Almost, Maine,” which explores love and loss among working-class people in northern Maine and premiered at Portland Stage Company in 2004. “Almost, Maine” has become one of the most popular plays in the United States, with nearly 4,000 productions, and is among the most frequently produced plays in North American high schools. Scenes from three of Cariani’s other plays – “LOVE/SICK,” “Last Gas” and “cul-de-sac” – also will be featured.

Cariani moved to Presque Isle from Massachusetts when he was a boy. He debuted on Broadway in the 2004 revival of “Fiddler on the Roof,” receiving an Outer Critics Circle Award and a Tony nomination for his portrayal of Motel the Tailor. He originated the role of Nigel Bottom in “Something Rotten!” He also played a forensic lab tech on “Law & Order” for five seasons and had recurring roles on the CBS-TV show “Numbers.”

Cariani couldn’t be reached Monday to talk about the benefit. In a news release, he noted the connection between his plays and “The Band’s Visit.” In a statement, he said, ” ‘The Band’s Visit’ is about love and loss and kindness and hope in a fictional town in the middle of nowhere in Israel. A lot of my plays are about love and loss and kindness and hope in a fictional town in the middle of nowhere in northern Maine. I’m intrigued by the intersection of these two make-believe worlds. And I’m excited to see the actors who appear in ‘The Band’s Visit’ every night tackle scenes from my plays – and raise some money for a good cause while they’re at it.”

Tickets cost $35 to $100.

Dottie Hutchins, executive director of the Wintergreen Arts Center, said Cariani called a week ago with the offer to help after he read about the arts center’s financial concerns in the local paper, the Star-Herald. The organization owes about $26,000 on an existing loan and, in November, will start paying $1,500 a month in rent. It had operated with a rent-free lease for the past decade, Hutchins said.

“John called up and said, ‘This is what I want to do. What do you think?’ I was like, ‘Yes!’ We’re absolutely thrilled, obviously,” Hutchins said. “He just read the article in the paper, and on his own he thought, ‘What can I do?'”

The Wintergreen is trying to raise about $50,000 to pay off its debt and cover rent for more than a year. So far, it has raised about half of that amount locally.

Hutchins has no idea what to expect with Cariani’s support, but she is optimistic. “Our goal now is the stars,” she said.

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.