PORTLAND — More than 70 years ago, a group of kids stumbled upon the Lascaux cave, a treasure trove of ancient art in southwestern France.
In writing a play based on that now-legendary discovery, Kevin O’Leary found some artistic insights of his own.
The Portland resident, an English and drama teacher at Morse High School in Bath, stepped down as artistic director of the Lanyard Theatre Company in 2009. He co-founded the company in 2005. But now, after what he described last week as a much-needed “long winter’s nap,” he and the company are back with Lanyard’s first play since then: “Lascaux.”
O’Leary, who is this time serving as a playwright with the company, wrote the play in 2009, staged a reading of it on New Year’s Day 2010, and then shelved it.
But like the Lascaux cave, it wasn’t to be forgotten forever.
“I always write for a production,” O’Leary said. “Always. And because it’s my band, I want my band to produce it, which is Lanyard.”
Elizabeth Lardie is directing the play, and she and Joseph Barbarino are producing it.
“They’re the trusted servants of the relaunch,” O’Leary said. “Where we go from there, we’ll see, but right now they are shepherding Lanyard’s rebirth.”
The play riffs off the true story of four French teenagers coming upon the cave by accident in September 1940 while searching for Robot, a dog who’d come with them but gotten lost. The Neolithic cave paintings they found took the world by storm and offered a rare glimpse into a time predating recorded history.
“I was always intrigued by things that are literally underneath us, just waiting to be discovered,” O’Leary said, nodding to film director James Cameron’s recent seven-mile descent to the Mariana Trench, the world’s deepest point.
About three-quarters into writing the first page of his script, O’Leary found that “suddenly, I was not writing the play anymore. I had an idea of what I wanted to say, and all of a sudden I was typing dialog. And it was not me; I was not writing it.”
Relying on the muses led to what O’Leary considers a suspense thriller, his first foray into that genre.
His story focuses on two of the teenagers – Marcel Ravidat and Simon Coencas – and takes place in a fictional 1983, when Ravidat is French minister of culture. He has been summoned by a psychologist, Katherine Terraine-Gervaise, to an isolated chateau where she is administering to the care of Coencas.
The call awakens long-buried skeletons in this fictional Ravidat’s closet.
“You discover that … back in the day, Marcel tried to kill his friend, because he was tired of taking care of him,” O’Leary said. “And so he let him go down in the caves, hoping that he would be lost forever, and he got out. And unbeknownst to him, 43 years later, he’s emerged, and Marcel of course is terrified that his great, dark secret is going to be – pardon the pun – unearthed.”
Barbarino plays Ravidat, Abigail Killeen is Terraine-Gervaise and J.P. Guimont is Simon Coencas.
A staged reading of the production will be held at Morse High School, 826 High St., Bath, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 20. A second reading will follow at the same time the next night at the Breakwater School, 856 Brighton Ave. in Portland. Admission is free both nights.
O’Leary said he hopes a full production of the play will ultimately take place.