If naloxone, the drug that reverses overdoses, had been widely available in 1998, Michael Gorman’s brother might still be alive and the Rockland playwright’s career might have gone in an entirely different direction.
But because of his brother’s death of a heroin overdose, Gorman, 58, has devoted his artistic endeavors to shining a light on addiction and its impact, particularly on fishing communities.
His brother, whose birthday was Wednesday, fished out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Aug. 31 was also International Overdose Awareness Day, and September is National Recovery Month.
Gorman’s latest production, “The Ahab Inside Me: A High Seas Blues Opera,” will be performed Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Colonial Theater in downtown Augusta. It is being launched by his production company, the Forty Hour Club, based in Rockland, and tells the story of one fishing family’s struggles with addiction.
It is one in a series of Gorman’s latest efforts to explore the traumatic impact of a fatal overdose on a fishing family and the inspiring efforts of the community to address the destructive roots of addiction. The new and evolving work draws inspiration from Herman Melville’s novel, “Moby Dick,” and Captain Ahab’s obsessive pursuit of a great white whale.
Gorman’s earlier play about addiction, “UltraLight,” was performed in Maine in 2003, before the overdose-reversing drug was available and addiction was not as widespread.
“We’ve seen tremendous growth in understanding addiction since then,” Gorman said. “In 2003, no one would admit in an obituary that a loved one died of an overdose. Now, it is fairly common. The stigma of addiction has been reduced and compassion has been built around the issue.”
During the first half of 2022, the state recorded 4,922 drug overdoses. Seven percent, or 329 of them, were fatal, according to statistics compiled by the state and the University of Maine.
Gorman believes the arts have an important role to play in helping communities understand the roots of addiction, its devastating impact on individuals and families, and how to support those in recovery.
Bruce Noddin, who founded the Maine Prisoner Re-entry Network, a nonprofit that helps people transition from incarceration back into the community, experienced the emotional wallop a play can have both on people in recovery and those who have no personal experience with addiction.
Noddin attended a performance that was part of Gorman’s previous work, “Chasing the New White Whale — Harpooning Addiction,” in November 2019. It was part of a three-day conference titled “What’s Art Got to Do With It?” that focused on the power of art to address the opioid crisis.
“I was sitting with some donors from California who weren’t part of the recovery community,” Noddin said Tuesday. “At the end, all of us, who appeared to have little in common, were in tears.
“That show provoked conversations and emotions in the recovery community that I’d never seen before,” he said. “Art reaches hearts and minds in a way that disseminating information doesn’t.”
Current and former members of Noddin’s organization are supporting Gorman’s work by volunteering to help out with the production. Some will appear onstage.
The Maine Arts Commission awarded the Forty Hour Club a $2,500 project grant for “The Ahab Inside Me,” according to Executive Director David Greenham.
“We need to do a better job of recognizing the really important role the arts play in making sure these issues get to the forefront of our minds,” he said.
He pointed, as an example, to “Angels in America,” a production that played a pivotal role in promoting public understanding of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, growing from workshops in the San Francisco area and eventually reaching Broadway.
Other Maine theater companies have tackled the subject of addiction. Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor launched “Safety Net” in March 2020 when the pandemic hit. The show was recorded and streamed but did not reach as wide an audience as it would have if it had been performed live.
Portland Stage in 2019 produced two shows that had characters dealing with addiction — “The Half-Light” by Monica Wood and “Skeleton Crew” by Dominique Morisseau. Last year, the company workshopped “Rx Machina” by Caity-Shea Violette, which is about the opioid epidemic.
Gorman’s work has been performed outdoors on working waterfronts, in an art museum and at La MaMa Experimental Theater Club in New York City, where he is a playwright in residence.
From Maine, the show will move to New Bedford, Massachusetts.
“The Ahab Inside Me: A High Seas Blues Opera” will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Colonial Theater, 139 Water St., Augusta. A talkback with leaders in the recovery community will be held after Friday’s show. A discussion featuring members of the Maine arts community will take place after Sunday’s matinee. For tickets and more information, visit fortyhourclub.com.