ELLSWORTH — Sitting in a
downtown restaurant, waiting for his lunch
guests to arrive, Herb Mitchell sat stunned
while reading Arthur Miller’s “A View from the
Mitchell had pored over
every word, every line of the powerful story of
jealousy and betrayal.
He’d been through the play
countless times over the last three months,
preparing for the role of longshoreman Eddie
Carbone. The depth of the story, Miller’s choice
of words, and even its pauses, had overwhelmed
“Miller must’ve lived these
things to be able to write them so well. … You
have to look at the circumstances that brought
Eddie to the point of being out of control,”
Mitchell said, his face showing a sternness that
comes only from being rapt in deep thought.
“This play frightens me. I
know this guy [Eddie]. I’ve felt what he feels.
I know what he’s thinking.
“I decided I needed to read
it through,” he said. “These guys [playwrights
such as Miller and Tennessee Williams] showed
real courage to write down these ideas, and the
way people interact and communicate with each
In 1947, Miller was doing
research on Pete Panto, a young longshoreman who
was executed by the mob for attempting to revolt
against union leadership. He was told about
another longshoreman in the area who had ratted
to the Immigration Bureau on his own relatives.
The story had all the elements of a powerful
Mitchell stars in the play,
which is being produced by the New Surry
Theatre, and opens next weekend at Ellsworth
High School. It runs July 28-30 and Aug. 4-6.
Also playing is “The House of Blue Leaves,” a
comedy by John Guare that runs Aug. 11-13 and
Aug. 18-20. (It will feature many of the cast
members from “A View from the Bridge” in
repertory fashion.) All shows are at 7:30 p.m.
in the high school’s auditorium.
The play reunites old
friends Mitchell and Bill Raiten, the New Surry
Theatre’s founder and the plays’ director. The
two men first worked together during “Fiddler on
the Roof,” which catapulted Mitchell’s notable
In the 1970s, Mitchell
portrayed Tevia. At the time, he was a
stockbroker with a wife and four small
children. Acting served as
an escape from his career.
“I knew I loved it,” he
said. “I knew it was what I wanted to be doing.”
Mitchell’s performance in
“Fiddler” got him noticed by, among others, a
writer/producer of an Off Broadway show. When
the man asked Mitchell if he might be interested
in coming to New York to perform “Fiddler” in
Brooklyn, Mitchell turned him down, his family
and career (and a cast party) prominently on his
“I’ll never forget the look
on his face,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell continued acting
in local theater, doing several other
performances — a few of them with Raiten.
Then, he decided he would
take his shot. He moved to California and began
the hard search for regular acting work. It was
a hard struggle. He met the cliché, hard-nosed
agent who told him he was stupid at 43 to be
starting his acting career over being a
stockbroker. He met a well-known casting
director who also put him down during an
audition for “M*A*S*H” because he tried to cover
up his Maine accent, which was much more
pronounced at the time.
In both cases, instead of
despairing and packing up, Mitchell persevered
like many of his friends and family on the East
Coast had done for generations.
Perhaps a younger man would
have given up, but Mitchell, who was always
proud of his Maine roots, stood up to the
Hollywood establishment — and succeeded.
Over the last 25 years,
Mitchell has appeared in hundreds of
commercials, more than a dozen movies, and has
had recurring roles on primetime television
shows, including “The Practice.” His most
notable role is as “Dean Witter” in that
company’s long line of commercials, with the
slogan, “We measure success one investor at a
In recent years, his life
took a decidedly different path. He overcame
three forms of cancer, spending months in
hospitals. From those hard years, Mitchell has
come out with a new appreciation for people and
Now Mitchell is retired,
living close to family. He has returned to Maine
(living in Blue Hill), and is eager to give back
to the region that taught him to work hard and
be “true to one’s self,” he said.
To that end, he wanted to
do repertory theater again.
“That [Hollywood] paid the
bills,” he said. “This is where I belong.”
And Raiten couldn’t be more
“I’ve always wanted to do
‘Bridge,’” he said. Raiten has directed other
Miller plays, including “The Crucible” last
“There is a truthfulness to
it,” Raiten said. “It brings together ideas that
work no matter what is happening in society.
That’s what good writing can do.”
Raiten works with cast
members to do what Mitchell was doing in the
restaurant: studying the play’s nuances, the
meaning behind its dialogue, finding the depth
of the story.
“We look at each part. We
must be true to the playwright to be true to the
character,” Raiten said. “Every ‘er’ and ‘um’ is
there for a reason. We ask ourselves why Miller
chose that word, that phrase, that moment.”
And from the deeper study,
Raiten gets powerful performances.
“The betrayal is so
profound [in ‘Bridge],” Raiten said. What has
happened on stage during rehearsals has been
inspiring and moving, Raiten said. The seasoned
actor is bringing out wonderful performances
from other cast members, Raiten said. But the
cast, the energy, is bring out another level of
excellence for Mitchell. “These are amazing
actors, doing amazing things on stage,” Raiten
And Mitchell said he has
always appreciated Raiten’s “third eye” — the
director’s vision for discovering what each
character and scene is about.
“Theater makes people
better people,” Mitchell said. “That’s where I
feel at home.”
Tickets to either show are
$15 for adults; $12 for seniors and students
under 18. For information or reservations, call