Written by Harold Withee
Thanksgiving is behind us, giving way to the Holiday Season and the New Year. Portland is blessed as a cultural hub, offering a wide array of seasonal themed entertainment.
I was raised to buy local and also to give gifts that the person may not purchase for themselves. I also like to give gifts that can be eaten, die (flowers), or have a long period of returning benefits, without ever worrying about the landfill impact in the future. Live performances create memorable evenings.
A theater season subscription will keep you in the bearer’s mind all year long. Perhaps an aunt or neighbor needs to get out more? No excuses when tickets are provided. Create future theater patrons by introducing young people to the Performing Arts. Make this Christmas about the Arts and give the gift of music, laughter, dance, drama and a reconnecting with the spirit of the season. I have no way of attending all this area has to provide, but I wish to give a good list of options, when a couple of hours away from the bedlam is needed to recharge.
Portland Stage has two stages producing two very different shows. On the main stage is Hans Christian Andersen’s dazzling fairy tale, THE SNOW QUEEN. This show is a family classic and will run now through Dec. 22, including two Wednesday evening performances (Dec. 11 and 18) and weekend matinees. A one-man show of David Sedaris’ not-so family friendly modern classic is playing in the studio space. THE SANTALAND DIARIES is a one-act starring Portland-based actor Dustin Tucker. This is one cranky elf. This show runs through Dec. 22. Tickets for both shows can be purchased by contacting the Box-Office at 774-0465.
Across the bridge, South Portland theaters are also adding to the festivities. Portland Players are in the midst of running a holiday favorite that doesn’t have a Christmas theme, another family classic, THE SOUND OF MUSIC. A show the whole family can (in their heads) sing along with. THE SOUND OF MUSIC runs through Dec. 8, weekends only. Box-Office and information call 799-7337. Around the corner, Lyric Music Theatre opens another family classic, ANNIE. The message of Christmas is certainly embedded within this heart tugged storytelling. ANNIE will grace the boards Dec. 6 through Dec. 21, weekends only. The Lyric can be reached for ticket information by calling 799-1421.
Another family favorite, bundle up, is the POLAR EXPRESS experience with the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad. The amazement of lights, hot chocolate, Santa and a train ride. The meeting location is the Ocean Gate Way on the Portland Waterfront and these tickets are very limited. Weekends only through Dec. 23 with four daily departures, 2:45, 4, 5:15, 6:30 p.m. Tickets are being handled by Port Tix.
The State Theatre is a jewel and anchor for the Arts District and will be lending a bit of cheer during the month of December themselves. JIM BRICKMAN’S JOY OF CHRISTMAS concert will come to town Friday, Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. Ticket information is available at StateTheatrePortland.com or 800-745-3000. How about $5 for a couple of Christmas flicks on the big screen? The State will host an afternoon and evening on Sunday, Dec. 15 starting at 4 p.m. with THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE begins at 6 p.m. followed at 9 p.m. with another showing of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. An inexpensive treat for the family.
Longfellow Square is the new hip spot with wonderful restaurants and the music venue One Longfellow Square, which is also serving up some holiday trimmings. The PORTLAND JAZZ ORCHESTRA will present a JAZZ CHRISTMAS Thursday, Dec. 12 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $9 at the door or $5 in advance. DUKE ELLINGTON’S NUTCRACKER SUITE will be performed. A couple of days later the sound in the air will have a twang as YULEGRASS takes the stage for two shows on Saturday, Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Banjo legend Tony Trischka leads his friends with novel winter songs and old holiday favorites. The days grow darker until we reach the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, and then slowly regain light as we march toward spring. Sunday, Dec. 22 at 7 p.m., Inanna-Sisters in Rhythm will perform RHYTHM & LIGHT — A CELEBRATION OF THE WINTER SOLSTICE. Contact this venue by calling 761-1757.
Portland Ballet will present their very popular rendition of THE VICTORIAN NUTCRACKER in two locations. Wednesday, Dec. 18 at 7:30 on the Merrill Auditorium stage and two performances on Saturday, Dec. 21 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center. Portland Ballet can be reached at 772-9671 or contact the venues.
I know I have yet to mention A CHRISTMAS CAROL. If the holidays just are lacking without a production of this classic, a short drive to the Public Theatre in Lewiston will make the world right again. This show opens Friday, Dec. 13 with a 7 p.m. curtain. Saturday, Dec. 14 there are two shows, one at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. The show will close with a 2 p.m. curtain on Sunday, Dec. 15. The Public box-office can be contacted at 782-3200. THIS WONDERFUL LIFE, based on the Frank Capra movie, comes to the theater at Monmouth and runs through Sunday, Dec. 8.
Portland has many traditions during this time of year, but one of the most cherished is sending out the old with a good belly laugh. Maine native and favorite funny man, comedian BOB MARLEY, closes down the old and rings in the new with his popular Merrill Auditorium shows, Dec. 27, 28, 29 and New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31 at 7 p.m. Be there, your neighbors will be.
Well, that’s just a few ideas to keep company entertained, kids occupied and just in keeping the traditions of this magical season close to our hearts. To all my Jewish friends, Happy Chanukkah.
(Harold Withee is a member of Actors’ Equity and SAG/AFTRA.)
Last Updated on Thursday, 05 December 2013 02:26
Written by Ken Levinsky
Indie/Alt rock band Metric enthralled a large and appreciative crowd at the State Theatre last Saturday.
Band co-founder/songwriter/vocalist Emily Haines pleased attendees, listening to the 16-song, 90-minute set, by sharing that her family enjoyed vacationing in Washington, Maine during her youth. Concert goers, many of whom were on their feet for the entire show, roared and danced especially hard during strong guitar driven renditions of "Help I'm Alive", "Synthetica", "Sick Muse" and "Gold, Guns & Girls".
The audience also reveled in the finale "Gimme Sympathy" done acoustically and with all four band members singing (together with their fans) the song ending Beatles/George Harrison-referenced refrain "Come on baby, play me 'Something', like 'Here Comes the Sun.'"
(Photo by Austin Verrill)
Last Updated on Friday, 22 November 2013 02:58
Written by Harold Withee
A darkened alley entrance leading down to a brightly lighted door. One of the wonderful surprises I encountered during the decade I dwelt in Boston as a professional actor, were the many hidden theater spaces, many tucked away down alleyways.
I had a similar experience Saturday evening as I easily found street parking on Forest Avenue and made my way toward the sandwich board sign at the entrance to the alley next to the Portland Ballet.
The newest addition to the performance scene is the Portland Ballet Studio Theater and what a gem it is. The lobby is large and comfortable, decorated to enhance the experience of a night at the theater. Portland desperately needs professional performance venues and I hope the Ballet Studio Theater becomes a major part of attending live theater and dance. The space is intimate, seating only 75 patrons, yet has an airy, roomy ambiance with comfortable seating. The space has been used once for the ballet of JACK THE RIPPER, but a collaboration between Fenix Theatre Company and Dramatic Repertory Company brings the first theatrical production to the stage. The Maine premiere of Samuel D. Hunter's OBIE winning play A BRIGHT NEW BOISE, was as much a pleasant surprise as the venue itself.
Keith Powell Beyland directs this talented cast and also created the set design. My first impression of the set was negative. My thoughts of "bad high school production" quickly were tamed as the show unfolded though. The entire action of this play occurs within the confines of a large box store's break room. I have worked enough retail for large chains to know the break room is cold, dreary, generic, zero money spent on even a good paint job. This is the room corporate could care less about, folding tables and chairs being the norm. A bit of wasteland being the perfect foil for this intelligent, dark comedy.
Chris Fitze has designed very intricate sound cues, underlying the entire action on stage and also a major contributor during the show. Light Design was provided by Michaela Wirth and Molly Bryant Roberts created the costumes, a highlight being the many headdresses worn by the store manager throughout the evening.
I felt at times the writing assignment was to incorporate as many themes as possible and time how long the juggling could be sustained. Mr. Hunter deftly weaves the tangled vines of the five characters story, interspersed with politics, religion, guilt, redemption, you get the picture, very Shakespearean yet "edgy" with contemporary influences of absurdism. The script overflows with laugh-out loud moments of hilarity, yet can quickly darken to the rawest of human self doubt and fight for self worth. 90 minutes with this script and I realized how simple the message is. We waste our lives not being in the moment, enjoying the now, appreciating our very own existence and the great miracle we are here at all. The lights dimmed and the play began. I can't state enough how refreshing not to sit through a curtain speech, to be allowed the moment of preparing to enjoy the experience of theater.
A pool of light with Will (Rob Cameron) uttering the word now, building in intensity. The scene is explained on the back end and the action starts with the audience knowing little of the circumstance. Mr. Cameron has the tough job of playing the every man, the level center within the whirl-wind of whacky characters employed at the Hobby Lobby. Mr. Cameron masterly handles the task, his character riding the crazy wave of life, searching and discovering. Erik Moody portrays the artist rebel Leroy.
Mr. Moody brings understanding to this youth, striving to put his own mark on the world, tethered to the "establishment" for income and schooling. Mr. Moody allows Leroy a heroic side of complete love and role of protector for adopted brother Alex. The young Alex is played by Gabriel Walker. Mr. Walker doesn't quite have the acting chops to keep pace with this crowd. His Alex is a bit too whiny, yet has good physical attributes in portraying an awkward youth.
The cast is rounded out by two women who have impeccable comic timing and brilliant interpretation. Abigail Killeen brings Anna to life and is a pro with characters a bit damaged and misfits. Ms. Killeen is a pro with body language and facial contortions. She can convey complex messages just from her big, expressive eyes, and infuses needed energy into the action. I have to state that this script has adult language and uses the "F" bomb liberally. I don't have a problem with language, yet I feel many younger writers use it to cover up the fact a great grasp of the English language is lacked in their ability to self express.
Can an audience on the cusp of 2014 be shocked anymore with mere language? As an actor, what do you do with "that" word anyway? It doesn't convey emotion and angst or anger can be better expressed with wit and word play. My basic feelings and understanding are overridden by an exception none the less. Pauline is a foul mouthed store manager and in the hands of Bess Welden, skate's to the edge of stealing this show.
Ms. Welden is Hell on wheels in this role, uttering the "F" Bomb so many times I couldn't keep count. I will tell you, each time she found a new meaning of expressing herself with one word and brought the house to tears with laughter with each entrance. I have never cheered the use of that word before, but by the evening's end I couldn't get enough of Ms. Welden saying F*#k. We have all worked for a Pauline in our lives and Ms. Welden holds nothing back. This production has top notch performers and Ms. Welden is the cherry on top.
This evening of theater is a powerful collaboration between two of Portland's smaller but innovative professional companies. Once again I applaud the effort to make their productions accessible to all. $10 RUSH tickets are available at the box-office at 7:00 p.m. before each performance. RUSH seats are first-come, first-served and subject to availability. A commit to groom the next generation of theatergoers is part of the ongoing FuturePatrons program. Tickets are FREE for the 25 and under crowd with proper ID. You heard me correct, FREE, if youth still exudes from your pores. NO EXCUSE!! Get thee to the theater, your date will be impressed. This is a short run in a small space with a kick-a** show, so make reservations fast.
A BRIGHT NEW BOISE is performed at the new Portland Ballet Studio Theatre, located at 517 Forest Ave., Portland. Shows run through Nov. 24, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. For information and tickets contact www.dramaticrep.org or www.fenixtheatre.com
(Harold Withee is a member of Actors' Equity and SAG/AFTRA.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 November 2013 01:38
Written by Harold Withee
A few days have passed since I attended a production of A. R. Gurney's THE GRAND MANNER, presented by Good Theater at the St. Lawrence Arts Center on Munjoy Hill. This script has rolled around my head, revealing the hidden layers. My appreciation of Mr. Gurney's words may have to do with a lifetime working, exploring and breathing the world of theater, living behind the curtain. The world created is that of New York theater royalty, post WWll, when the 1940s were giving way to the future of entertainment, television.
Mr. Gurney is a master at exploring many themes, emotions, human quirks and heroism, even if only to intervene on behalf of a young man. This is a story that is autobiographical, yet embellished to create the play many call Mr. Gurney's love letter to the theater. Written from an elder of the art form, this look backward is filled with nostalgia, perspective and hope looking into the future. Acting styles may change, performers shine bright and then recede, but the theater survives as history lumbers on.
Brian P. Allen lovingly directs THE GRAND MANNER. The set is built out on a thrust which puts the action into the laps of the audience, literally for the front row. The action takes place in real time in one location, the green room after a performance of "Antony and Cleopatra." The walls are adorned with the stars of the Great White Way, and designer Cheryl Dolan brings great warmth and tranquility to the environment with walls of dark red and well arranged period furniture and steamer trunk. The set created a wonderful openness for moving actors, and Mr. Allen choreographs movement with ease, always introducing the audience to another interesting tableau. The design team is completed with lighting by Iain Odlin and Justin Cote's costumes; this production looks great, I must add.
Four actors share the stage for this production, each creating well fleshed characters with larger than life personalities that fill the space and add to a well paced evening of theater. Young Pete is played by Tristan Rolfe, Pete representing the young Gurney. Mr. Rolfe wonderfully plays this school boy without cliché, giving us a bright young mind actively involved in the inner game of wit and dominance being played out by the adults. Wide-eyed, clean cut, prep school boy alone in New York to acquire the autograph of an idol, always with a smirk of confidence and air that this kid can take care of himself.
Katherine Cornell is the subject of his adoration, dubbed "The First Lady of the American Stage," yet by the late '40s understood her days in the sun were numbered. Denise Poirier portrays this larger than life Icon from the American Stage with tenderness and vulnerability, the audience always aware, though, who the "Alpha" in the room is. The "Grand Manner" of the play's title refers to the ending of one theatrical era leading into another, that of realism and "The Method" as a style of acting. Ms. Poirier skillfully works the tightrope of an aging actress, bringing the nuance of a powerful figure within her world, suppressing the fear of what will be.
Tony Reilly inhabits the role of Guthrie, Ms. Cornell's husband and director. The relationship is that of love, professional pursuit and convenience, the secret that both are of "alternative lifestyle" revealed well within the action of the play. Mr. Reilly packs much into this portrayal with pompous arrogance, little boy insecurities and the delicious appeal of youth and innocence when stumbling into his lair. Guthrie hasn't offered shining examples of humanity, yet Mr. Reilly creates a likeable character, flaws and all, within the whole, an aging man of stature still needing the steady hand of a strong woman, his wife. Maureen Butler fills out the cast as Gert, although she never quite presented a performance I felt she was in complete control of.
An evening of wit and great dialogue, wrapped in humor is always a treat. This play is presented without an intermission, so visit the restroom beforehand. This production lives up to name of this theater company.
THE GRAND MANNER is presented by Good Theater at the St. Lawrence Arts Center on Congress Street through Nov. 24. For information and tickets please call 885-5883 or online at www.goodtheater.com.
(Harold Withee is a member of Actors' Equity and SAG/AFTRA.)
Last Updated on Friday, 15 November 2013 01:26