They were runners, spectators, law enforcement personnel and track officials, and they had all gathered at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon to celebrate the renewal of the oldest annual marathon in the world.

When the bombs went off, they shattered bones and limbs, ended lives and left many horribly maimed, but they didn’t shatter the spirits of an entire city. In the midst of devastation, there were also stories of recovery, resilience and determination.

When the bombs went off, they shattered bones and limbs, ended lives and left many horribly maimed, but they didn’t shatter the spirits of an entire city. In the midst of devastation, there were also stories of recovery, resilience and determination.

The stories of 18 people whose lives were dramatically changed on that day were brought to the stage in “Finish Line: A Documentary Play About the 2013 Boston Marathon,” which had its world premiere on March 15 at the Shubert Theatre in Boston.

Lynn native Paula Plum, a graduate of St. Mary’s High and one of the Boston area’s most accomplished actors and directors, was tasked with playing two roles in the production. The cast of 11 also included Plum’s fellow BU alumna and good friend Karen MacDonald. Plum recently picked up a special IRNE Award for replacing MacDonald in “Red Hot Patriot” at the Lyric Stage in Boston when MacDonald fell ill.

Karen MacDonald and Paula Plum, right, rehearse lines for "Finish Line" at the Shubert Theater. | Photo: Nile Scott

Karen MacDonald and Paula Plum, right, rehearse lines for “Finish Line” at the Shubert Theater. | Photo: Nile Scott

In “Finish Line,” Plum played former Fox TV anchor Maria Stephanos (now at WCVBTV) and Carol Downing, a runner who was a half-mile from the finish line when the bombs exploded and injured two of her daughters, Erika Brannock and Nicole Gross. Brannock spent 50 days in the hospital after the bombing, had her left leg amputated above the knee, and her right leg essentially rebuilt.

“It’s an honor to represent these two women, their heroism and their resilience,” said Plum. “What’s crucial is that the audience isn’t thinking ‘Oh, she doesn’t look like Maria Stephanos’ — because I don’t — but that I can create the persona of someone well-known. That I can channel her energy, her toughness, her humor, and maybe her mannerisms, whatever those may be.”

The cast also included Amie Lytle, Greg Maraio, Lewis D. Wheeler, Omar Robinson, Ed Hoopman, Katy Sullivan, Sam Tanabe, Danny Bolton and Tonasia Jones. Each of the actors brought to life the real words of individuals who were interviewed for the play — such as Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, Life is Good founder John Jacobs, Massachusetts General Hospital trauma surgeon Dr. David R. King, 1976 Marathon winner Jack Fultz, and The Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki. Their stories were told using their own words, taken verbatim from interviews.

The nonprofit group Boston Theater Company developed and staged the play, which was co-created by Joey Frangieh and Lisa Rafferty, and directed by Frangieh. A group of seven young people, the Boston Theater Company was established three years ago, and soon afterwards began the process of compiling 95 recorded interviews of people affected by the bombings. The interviews were transcribed and winnowed down to 18 stories for the final production, which Frangieh said presents a good cross-section of those affected.


“Finish Line” cast promo photo. | Photo courtesy of the Boch Center.

Plum communicated via e-mail for this interview because of a voice left raspy and raw by her critically-acclaimed performance as Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, a show which she said was “a mountain to climb” and was “taking up quite a bit of physical and psychic energy.”

Plum, married to fellow actor Richard Snee, continues to burnish the resume of her decades-long career. Acting-wise, she is the winner of five Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Awards, three Elliot Norton Awards — including the 2004 Norton Award for Sustained Excellence — and the 2003 Distinguished Alumna Award from her alma mater, Boston University.

Her writing career includes the plays “Memorial,” “Wigged OUT!,” “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed” and the award-winning solo show “Plum Pudding.”

She has been involved in the teaching aspect of theater and, in recent years, has also turned increasingly towards her directing career, which dates back to 1985 and includes such critically-acclaimed recent productions as “Out of Sterno” and “The Last Schwartz” at Gloucester Stage and “School for Scandal” at Actors Shakespeare Project (ASP), where she is a founding member.

In January, Plum was named acting co-artistic director of ASP with fellow actor Maurice Emmanuel Parent after Allyn Burrows left to head Shakespeare & Company in Lenox.

“We miss him, his leadership, and immense humor and Maurice Parent and I are trying to fill his shoes,” said Plum. “It’s a huge job and Maurice and I are sharing the myriad responsibilities because he and I both have full acting seasons ahead.”

Plum will play Titania in the troupe’s May production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Plum has also served as artistic director of WGBH’s “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn” from 2003 to the present, and has a very lengthy list of film and TV credits.

When asked how she prepared to represent the well-known Stephanos and lesser-known Downing on stage, she said she had to listen to the actual cadence of the women and watch videos when possible.

“In the case of Maria Stephanos, I auditioned for Joey (Frangieh) with her monologues and I spent quite a bit of time watching her on Fox and Channel 5 to prepare for the audition,” said Plum. “There’s so much deep, deep emotion in the experiences of both of these women, but in a reported event, when you are recalling how you felt, there is less. So our challenge as actors is to be ‘true to the moment’ we are standing in — telling the story of what happened. I think Joey’s challenge was to bring us to the place that has the most impact.”

Frangieh said the workshop productions of “Finish Line” a year ago were not only to help develop the piece but to make sure it passed muster with those portrayed.

“Basically, we did the workshop productions for the interviewees,” he said. “We were concerned that we represent them the way they’d want to be represented.”

“Finish Line” was supported by the Boch Center, the Highland Street Foundation, Cummings Foundation and The Boston Foundation.

“We truly could not have assembled a more talented group of actors to bring the production to life,” said Josiah A. Spaulding, Jr., president and CEO of the Boch Center.

The production also benefitted from significant pre-run publicity on NBC Boston and NECN, including a 30-minute special on the making of “Finish Line” and a 60-minute preview of the production itself.

Frangieh said a conscious decision was made not to mention the bombers in the production.

“We don’t focus on the terrorists — they’re never named — but on the people whose lives they affected,” he said.

Plum said the structure of the play works well.

“Joey has created a thrillingly theatrical script while keeping the play a documentary — so there is a kind of paradox in that,” she said. “But the play has momentum, and impact, as you would experience in a well-crafted docu-drama. There’s tension and suspense. Even though we all know what actually happened, there is suspense around each individual story and also within the structure of the piece as a whole.”

Frangieh and his troupe have staged several productions since their founding, but admits that “Finish Line” is “500 times bigger than anything we did before” and that the process and experience of developing the play have been gratifying.

“How lucky we’ve been to meet so many inspiring people,” said Frangieh. “We’re all very grateful that they trusted us with their stories.”

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