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Perham sets the stage; Critically-acclaimed play brings this small town to the Big Apple

Photo submitted by Paula Court Actor Alex Delinois stands on a chair for a scene in "Neutral Hero," on stage at The Kitchen experimental theater in New York City. Actress Paige Martin is in the background to the right, and the remaining company members stand in a line in back.1 / 2
Submitted by Bea Borgers Writer-director Richard Maxwell regularly spends his summers at his parent's farm in Richville.2 / 2

The streets of Perham set the scene in Richard Maxwell's new play, "Neutral Hero," now playing at a theater in New York City.

Perham was a major source of inspiration for the play, Maxwell revealed in a phone interview last week. He both wrote and directed the show.

Through character dialogue, New York City audiences can clearly imagine driving into Perham from the south on Highway 78, traveling over the Highway 10 bypass, and continuing down 3rd Avenue. When they reach the corner near Service Foods, they turn left and head into the "heart of downtown."

From there, Perham is described block-by-block, allowing the audience to visualize what Maxwell believes represents a 'typical Midwestern town.'

Maxwell describes the town in his play as having "roughly two and a half thousand inhabitants," and as a place where the show's hero and his family can watch "Iron Man" at the Comet Theater.

"I wanted to be as specific as possible in description, because you feel rooted in something actual," Maxwell said.

Thus, describing Perham - a town he knows like the back of his hand - was a logical choice.

Though not raised in Perham, Maxwell describes the town as, "the most constant place in my life."

He moved around a lot while growing up, but in 1977 his parents, Ralph and Elizabeth Maxwell, bought a retirement home in Richville, and he's spent his summers in the Perham area ever since.

Perham - or at least, the Perham-inspired small town Maxwell has created for "Neutral Hero" - provides the backdrop for his tale of a hero journeying to find his father, much like Homer's epic poem, "The Odyssey."

"Neutral Hero," running through Nov. 3 at The Kitchen theater in NYC, has a cast of 12. The actors tell the story of a typical American guy dealing with the day-to-day problems of life in a small town, while trying to find his father.

The production utilizes minimal props, instead relying on basic principals of storytelling - texts, movement and music.

The original script of "Neutral Hero," Maxwell said, called for issues of the East Otter Tail Focus to be read out loud - feature articles, obituaries and birth notices would offer audiences a real glimpse into a small town. In the end, however, those scenes didn't make the final cut.

Maxwell writes and directs plays for his company, the New York City Players. For the past 15 years, he has written and directed a variety of shows in the Big Apple, including, "The End of Reality," "People Without History," "Odes to the Man who Kneels" and "Showy Lady Slipper."

He recently received a rave review by Ben Brantley of the New York Times for "Neutral Hero."

Maxwell said his theater career began with a couple of summer productions in the mid-1990s right here in Perham, at the high school auditorium.

He got his first taste of directing with, "You Can't Take it with You." The following summer, he directed, "Journey to the Past," where local people shared stories about their relationships to East Otter Tail County.

"It's where I cut my teeth," Maxwell said of Perham. "Those two experiences were my first time directing, and I value that."

For more information about the show, visit