News & Events

UMPI hosts hometown premiere of ‘Last Gas’

The University of Maine at Presque Isle and the Presque Isle Community Players are pleased to present the northern Maine debut of John Cariani’s play Last Gas this spring, bringing the Presque Isle native’s “hilarious and heartbreaking” tale to the stage for its hometown premiere. Last Gas performances will take place on Fridays and Saturdays, March 31, April 1, 7 and 8 at 7 p.m. in the Auditorium in Wieden Hall; doors will open at 6:30 p.m.

This dramatic comedy again brings together the creative forces of the play’s creator—Presque Isle native and Tony-nominated actor John Cariani—and director Barbara Frick Ladner. Cariani, who has appeared in major roles on Broadway, including the revival of Fiddler on the Roof and in the 2015 musical comedy Something Rotten!, has performed numerous roles in Presque Isle High School and Pioneer Playhouse productions. Frick Ladner has directed scores of high school and community theater productions in the last 33 years.

The two came together for the first time in 1984, when Cariani played Doody in the high school production of Grease, under Frick Ladner’s direction. While Cariani was able to celebrate the Presque Isle Community Players’ production of Almost, Maine in person, his schedule didn’t allow him to do the same with Last Gas. However, he and Frick Ladner have consulted frequently on this production, and his presence will be felt.

“John’s ‘Last Gas’ takes his audience to Township 16, Range 8 and into Paradis’ Last Convenient Store.  It is there that we meet Nat, Cherry-Tracy, Troy, Guy, Dwight and Lurene,” Frick Ladner said. “They embody the world of T-16, R8. John’s characters are universal in nature, and the essence of what makes his play great. His love for Maine and its people is joyful, and makes ‘Last Gas’ a play filled with emotions that make you laugh and at times cry.”

Last Gas is Cariani’s third play. It debuted at the Portland Stage Company in 2010 and became the biggest selling three-week run in the company’s history. In the play, Nat Paradis (played by Jeff Ashby) is a Red Sox-loving part-time dad who manages Paradis Last Convenient Store, the last place to get gas or anything before the Canadian border to the north and the North Maine Woods to the west. When an old flame (Sherry Sullivan) returns to town, Nat gets a chance to rekindle a romance he gave up on years ago. But sparks fly and he’s forced to choose between a new love and old. With other roles perfectly filled by Tamia Glidden, Jim Derosier, Jacob Graham and Aaron Swanson, and set and stage design by Joe Zubrick, Last Gas takes a hilarious and heartbreakingly hard look at love lost and found, and at what it means to “get back to happy.”

“People like the people in ‘Last Gas’ aren’t very well represented in contemporary art and culture,” Cariani said. “Stories of rural America aren’t common. I’m proud to put people from the corner of the world I grew up in on stage. And even prouder to have my high school drama director and teacher directing the play and bringing a story about northern Mainers… to northern Mainers.”

Last Gas is among Cariani’s four stage works; his other three plays—Almost, Maine, cul-de-sac, and LOVE/SICK—have all had Off-Broadway runs and are published by Dramatists Play Service. His first play, Almost, Maine, has become one of the most frequently produced plays in North America, produced by more than 3,000 theater companies across the continent. It is currently the most frequently produced play in North American high schools, topping perennial favorites A Midsummer Night’s Dream, You Can’t Take It with You, and Our Town.

Cariani graduated from Presque Isle High School in 1987. After earning his Bachelor’s degree in history from Amherst College, he studied theater at StageWest in Springfield, Mass., and moved to New York City to pursue a career in acting. He made his Broadway debut in the 2004 revival of Fiddler on the Roof and received an Outer Critics Circle Award and a Tony Award nomination for his portrayal of Motel the Tailor. He originated the role of Nigel Bottom in the recent Broadway hit, Something Rotten! and received an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination for his performance. On television, he is best known for his roles on NBC’s Law & Order (as Forensics Tech Beck), on CBS’ Numbers (as Professor Otto Bahnoff), and on IFC’s The Onion News Network (as reporter Michael Falk). Notable film work includes Showtime (with Robert De Niro), Scotland, PA (with Christopher Walken), and Elephant Sighs (with Ed Asner). He will be starring in the Broadway show The Band’s Visit alongside Tony Shalhoub this fall. 

“We are so pleased to have our second ever hometown premiere of a John Cariani play happening here at our Auditorium in Wieden Hall,” UMPI President and Provost Ray Rice said. “This region is so proud of John and where his stage and screen career has taken him, and we’re honored to have John’s support for our auditorium renovation efforts—he brought magic to this stage in his youth as a community thespian, and we’re delighted to have him bring back a little more magic with the local debut of his ‘Last Gas’ on our University stage.”

Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and students and are available at the Aroostook Centre Mall Information Desk, Goin’ Postal, and the Campus Store. They will also be available at the door, if not sold out. Proceeds from these special performances will benefit renovations to the Auditorium at Wieden Hall.

For more information, contact the UMPI Community and Media Relations Office at 207-768-9452 or email umpi@maine.edu.