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Real-life theater mess-ups inspired playwrights' 'Opening Night Mutiny'

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PORTSMOUTH — It’s hard to believe a director would fire a leading actor the day before a show is set to open, or that the actors would change the lines of the script the first night of the show.

But such debacles are not merely the stuff of farcical fiction, but also the real-life events that have been captured in “Opening Night Mutiny,” a show written by two York, Maine, natives and opening Friday at the Players’ Ring Theatre.

“Most of the scenes in it are true stories that happened to one of us or to someone we met, or they reflect a scandal big enough to have made national news,” said Alex Bickerstaff, who co-wrote “Opening Night Mutiny” with friend Michael Freitag.

Michael Freitag co-wrote and stars as a harried director in 'Opening Night Mutiny'

Michael Freitag appears as the director of a mishap-plagued production in “Opening Night Mutiny,” a play he co-wrote with Alex Bickerstaff. The show opens Friday at the Players’ Ring in Portsmouth.

“Opening Night Mutiny” will play Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Feb. 10 at the Players’ Ring Theatre, 105 Marcy St. For tickets, go to playersring.org or call 436-8123.

Based at the fictional South Shore Playhouse, “Opening Night Mutiny” tells the story of an exhausted cast and crew trying to premiere their new season despite some setbacks including a fired lead, a seriously underprepred understudy, an inflexible playwright and unauthorized script revisions by the actors.

This series of escalating hi-jinks results in the outraged author pulling the rights to the show, right as the curtain rises. As the cast tries to perform with a half-written script, they must deal with the fact that nobody has rehearsed it, the fact that it’s set in space, and the playwright is in the front row.

Within the show are terms that Bickerstaff, an actor and director studying theater in college, coined to describe familiar theater occurrences. His “small pond syndrome” addresses what happens when “a lot of people and a lot of the characters in the show have the right mixture of success, pride and naiveté to make them think they are much bigger than they are. It is meant to poke fun at the more pretentious things we do in theater.”

The show’s title refers to “what happens when actors nod along with what they are told to do and then do what they want when they get to opening night,” he added.

Bickerstaff, a junior at State University of New York in Purchase, has written plays before, but “Opening Night Mutiny” is the first that has gone this far, getting performed on a professional stage. This is a first script for Freitag, an actor who works in IT at Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine.

The two, who have performed together, collaborated as Outcast Productions to write “Opening Night Mutiny.”

“Alex approached me with these real-life ideas that are stranger than fiction and asked me to help him make this real,” said Freitag.

“I thought our styles would blend well and bring us to something better than either of us could write on our own,” Bickerstaff said.

What they ended up with Freitag describes as “a farcical ensemble comedy that presents theater in a larger than life away, that brings together authentic stories happening on the same night, stories that are very real to the people who have been through these moments.”

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