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Arthur Miller gem given added meaning by Mad Horse

My New England upbringing puts me into a mood of yearning hearty fare when the autumn wind begins to howl. Meat and potatoes to stick to the ribs, nourishing through the long, dark, bitter winters. Our Soul and intellect hunger to be properly feed as well. Summer frivolity melts away into warm hazy memory. We are left naked against the elements, forced to deal with the realities of life once again.

Voices from the Theater, for centuries, have tried to offer insight into our collective humanity. Mad Horse Theatre Company reaches into the near past to present an American Classic, Arthur Miller's A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE. This play is surprisingly, extremely relevant within the political speak of today, tackling the basic questions of struggle in belonging, acceptance and social taboo. Too often great scripts of yesteryear collect dust, overlooked for modern takes and contemporary visions and voice. New isn't always better and this production delivers wisdom from a master of the American Stage, boiled down to the bare essence of word and actor. A feast is being served, your soul is hungry.

Director Christopher Price unapologetically embraces a Spartan approach to staging. The Mad Horse space is extremely intimate, with audience seated on three sides of the black box space. Mr. Price directs, fully aware of pictures and sight lines, never leaving an actor static for too long. The evening provided a beautifully composed montage. One of my favorite moments was a scene staged around a support pole.

Lighting Design by Corey Anderson gave wonderful illusion of street light illumination, creating a Brooklyn street corner vividly painted for the spectator. The show started in darkness, with only the sound of, I believe, pennies, being used in a game. The sound was coupled with a slow rise of the lights. The directed moment was a strong choice to invite the audience to fully engage all their senses to prepare for the full impact of this script. The American public is addicted to drama provided by the small screen. The thrill of a production at Mad Horse is the closeness to the action, giving the sense of being part of, hiding in the shadows. If you like your drama in your face, this production doesn't disappoint.

No secret here that I very much enjoy a theater presentation that takes a great script, coupled with talented actors, and offers a bare bones juggernaut. This cast doesn't need much to create the complete world of Brooklyn, circa 1950s. Kat Moraros is downright perfection in the role of Catherine. A strong, young women finding her place in the world, struggling to cross the bridge to adult independence without seeming ungrateful to the extended family members who helped raise her. Ms. Moraros exploits the emotions her character is inhabiting with full body, facial, and vocal interpretation. I have seen Ms. Moraros' work more than once in the past few years and this is performance certainly is a crowning achievement.

Christine Louise Marshall portrays her Aunt Beatrice. Ms. Marshall also is tremendous in creating a character the exact opposite of Catherine. A women of a different generation. A women who is searching to crawl out from the role of being someone's wife. Ms. Marshall brings heartbreak to the stage, a women who embraces the realities of her existence. The moment she confronts her husband about "truth," sent chills up my spine. Her character is an "Edith Bunker" of a male-dominated household, beholden to her husband's wishes and paycheck. As an actor, Ms. Marshall does her homework and fully brings to life the complexities of this women.

The narrative is presented as a flashback, the thoughts of Alfieri, the family lawyer. Brent Askari creates a character just a bit slimy. He plays him as the pudgy, smart kid in school who grew up to help his tougher classmates through the legalities of being American. The Italian neighborhood, a bit rough around the edges, looks to him for advice and to be the intermediary to the "acceptable culture."

Eddie Carbone stands at the center of this story. Portrayed by William McDonough lll, the man brought to life is many things. Humans are complex creatures, showing different sides of ourselves, depending on our audience. Mr. McDonough pulls no punches when tackling the inner demons and the inner goodness that make this man so interesting. We all have the capacity to be a hero in one moment and a complete disappointment within the same time frame. Portraying the working man always is a challenge. A king in the home, yet a cog in a large wheel in the world beyond the threshold, is an exciting dynamic to witness an actor mining. Mr. McDonough succeeds in leaving the audience unsure of how to feel with his fate.

Immigration has been the tool this country has used to create the most diverse, innovative society the earth has ever known. The nightly news will inform you we still struggle with the idea of legal and illegal entrance to these United States and what makes an American. Assimilation is necessary on some levels, yet the richness of the world's cultures have made the American melting pot vibrant and dynamic. Every generation is confronted with new arrivals. Burke Brimmer is Marco, immigrating from the Italian peninsula. Mr. Brimmer is a forceful presence on stage. Bringing a proud individual to fruition and creating the tension that envelopes this household. Rodolpho is created by Nate Speckman. Rodolpho is the opposite of Marco in manner and outward timidity, yet is the fuse that ignites the fireworks that bring this play to climax.

There are moments in this production where I did feel a few dragged out moments and lost momentum. The first act needed just a tad of tightening up. The totality of this production is immensely satisfying though and the second act is completely captivating as the tragedy steamrolls to the emotional ending.

Arthur Miller's A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE will be performed through Oct. 19 at 24 Mosher Street in South Portland. For tickets or information please the box-office at 207-747-4148 or www.madhorsetheater.com.

(Harold Withee is a member of Actors' Equity and SAG/AFTRA.)

 

Last Updated on Friday, 17 October 2014 00:12

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Lyric pokes fun at the PC with 'Avenue Q'

Community Theater has many connotations and different levels of expectations. Greater Portland is home to many and we are very lucky they strive to offer forward thinking, professional level productions of ambitious scripts. Lyric Music Theater's attempt at mounting the Broadway sensation AVENUE Q, once again shines a spotlight on the enormous well of talent this small metropolis harbors. Many of the Bio's list Theater and Voice degrees, along with other training.10-3-14-HW-avenue

Director Jonathan R. Carr has expertly cast this adult riff off the children's classic " Sesame Street." This is a puppet show for the PG-13 and up crowd. Songs such as "The Internet is for Porn," "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," "What Do You Do with a BA in English," "I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today" and "it Sucks to be Me" will put a smile on the lips while poking a stick at our PC society. Mr. Carr has assembled a cast with great voices, talent in puppet manipulation and extremely expressive, three dimensional performances. z-theater-withee

Karen Trask is credited with the creation of the wonderful characters represented by puppets. Many incorporate two people to breathe life into these creatures, such as Trekkie, who likes Porn.

Ken Hutchins has constructed a simple yet highly usable set. The windows are a nod to the hilarity of "Laugh-in," allowing quick entrances and exits. Lighting by Bruce Gray and Costuming by Paul J. Bell and Louise Keezer layer the production, lending to a polished appearance. Musical Direction by Leslie Chadbourne never allowed the vocals to be overpowered. The Lyric doesn't use microphones, yet I never missed the lyrics during the musical numbers.

This cast is a true ensemble, each excelling within the framework ofof this fictional, offbeat street, AVENUE Q. Ashley Christy as Lucy T. Slut, provided one of the best vocals in this very talented cast. Kate Monster, in the hands of Molly Harmon, became the center this story revolved around. Ms.Harmon is able to delve beneath the fur to mine the emotional journey this character travels. Eight years in the Air Force, Joel Crowley plays Kate Monster's love interest, Princeton. Mr. Crowley has a theater background from the University of Southern Maine. Mr. Crowley has an air of ease on the stage, allowing Princeton to wear the crown of conscience, seeking purpose.

Alison Bogannan is always enjoyable, and as Christmas Eve, allows herself a maternal approach as a citizen of the Avenue. Torin Peterson brings a wonderful humanity to the sexually confused Rod. Nicky is his best friend, lovingly portrayed by Shawn Reardon. Mr. Reardon has a unique vocal quality, perfectly suited for this performance.

AVENUE Q is ultimately a musical about relationships and finding our purpose. Should we find our purpose disappointing if being someone's "guiding light" or "touchstone" for feeling whole, is our only valuation?

The Saltwater Grille is close to this theater and sits looking upon the majestic city sky line that is Portland. South Portland has theater worth checking out.

AVENUE Q will be performed at Lyric Music Theater through Oct. 4. For information or tickets, please contact the box-office @ 207-799-1421 or www.LyricMusicTheater.org.

(Harold Withee is a member of Actors' Equity and SAG/AFTRA.)

 

Last Updated on Friday, 03 October 2014 02:03

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'Brighton Beach Memoirs' seizes on everyman theme

Portland Stage Company opens their season with, in my opinion, one of the great scripts from the latter part of the last century. BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS, by Neil Simon, is a classic look at the dynamics of a close family unit during the "Roosevelt Recession" of 1937. The enormous deficit The New Deal created, and the large taxes imposed, resulted in the secondary crash.9-30-14-HW-Brighton-Beach

Evoking Miller's ALL MY SONS or William's family portrait plays, Simon offers a thought-provoking and insightful piece of literature laden with humor.

Samuel Buggeln returns to PSC to helm this intimate look at the personal and global anxieties of people being engulfed in situations largely created beyond their control. I have always enjoyed theater that delves into the psyche of the working man. People who constantly battle to keep their heads above water and yet never waiver from their principles, faith and love of country, leaning on the family unit for strength and emotional support. A favorite line being "for people like us, the only thing we own is our dignity." Mr. Buggeln creates a well paced, highly entertaining night of theater.

Entering the theater, the audience is introduced to one of the most interesting, visionary sets I have witnessed in Greater Portland. Designer Brittany Vasta has assembled an intricate labyrinth, supporting the realism written into the script with an avant-garde bone structure. Escher would be pleased. Mr. Buggeln has worked closely with the designers, never squandering an innovative moment in his rich, evocative direction. (I could have lived without the actors on stage warming up before the show and leading a cheer after the curtain speech, though.)

The production is layered with the authentic, detailed, period costuming of Julie McMurry, and Christ Fitze underscores the evening with an affecting Sound Design. Illumination is provided by the skillful Lighting Design of Dans Maree Sheehan. Lighting is liberally used to move the narrative's location and time.

Matriarch Kate is deliciously portrayed by Mary Jo Mecca. Ms. Mecca is the bedrock of this production, perfection in nuance, timing and revealing the inner doubt and softness a strong, determined woman must build a shell around. Supporting her is the never disappointing, Maine-based Equity Actor Abigail Killeen as her sister, Blanche. Ms. Killeen builds a wonderful arch for her character to journey along, assembling the complexity of Blanche, yet moving her constantly in dynamic directions.

Portland Stage has used three other Maine-based actors to help fill the cast. If one other cast member had been a local Union member it would have been a greater gesture in supporting the local growth of local artists to make a living here. Two young women share the role of Laurie. Dora Chaison-Lapine is a seventh-grader here in Portland at King Middle School. The evening I attended, the role was portrayed by Elaine Landry, a seventh-grader at Camden Rockport Middle School. Ms. Landry certainly held her own and was never a diminished presence within the mix of this family menagerie.

One major disappointment with casting was that of the lead role, Eugene. Matt Mundy is completely in an acting style jarringly opposite from the nuanced realism created by those around him. In my notes I wrote, "This is not a stand-up comedy act." Too much muggy face and poor comic timing created a very tedious performance. I also never had a real handle on the age of the boy he portrayed. The program stated the age at 15, yet felt he was closer to playing a much younger and immature kid, not a young male on the verge of manhood. Jerry Lewis isn't a performer I want to be reminded of during the vivid, dramatic and emotional storytelling being created on stage.

Julia Knitel is a sensation in the role of Nora. Playing the angst of the teen years, even in the 1930s. She rejects the easy stereotypes to portray a young woman yearning to be independent, yet reeling with the feelings of abandonment and love lost with the early death of a parent.

Portland Stage Company opens the season with a fascinating reveal of human interaction. No smoke and mirrors here, folks. Settle in for some meat and potatoes for the mind and soul.
BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS will be performed at Portland Stage Company through Oct. 19. For tickets & information please contact the box-office @ 207-774-0465 or www.portlandstage.org.

(Harold Withee is a member of Actors' Equity and SAG/AFTRA.)

PHOTO: Kate (Mary Jo Mecca) and Blanche (Abigail Killeen) do their housework as Laurie (Elaine Landry) reads and Eugene (Matt Mundy) plays baseball in “Brighton Beach Memoirs” by Neil Simon, now playing at Portland Stage. (Photo by Jonathan Reece)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 September 2014 01:06

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The magic of live theater

An explosion of creative theatrical endeavor is about to hit Portland like a giant wrecking ball. The Patriots already have two wins under their belts and the leaves are changing, ushering in another exciting and engaging season of exceptional live theater. z-theater-withee

I get goose bumps when I take a moment to take inventory of the plethora and variety of live theater this tiny metropolis produces. I see a production once or twice a week and always find the seats filled in this town. You, the audience, are the true hero within the equation. You, the audience, provide the grid and foundation, allowing artists to take risks, knowing a Portland Theater goer is sophisticated and open to new ideas.

You, the audience, who would rather venture out on a cold winter evening to laugh, cry and think, than warm the couch and watch another reality dating show. Thank you, the Greater Portland Theater Patron, for being the power source thespians can confidently plug into.

I'm not going to list every production and theater company in this article, that is why God invented the smartphone. I do want to entice you in thinking about making a night out to the theater an integral part of your weekly existence. The price of a ticket should never hinder you from attending a show and I'm proud of the artistic community which works hard in being inclusive.

The majority of the companies in town all have "pay what you can night" and other opportunities for discounted tickets. Perhaps you usher or put up posters, lend your skills as a grant writer, carpenter or envelope stuffer. Now, if you attend the majority of a theater's productions throughout the season, then become a season ticket holder.9-19-14-wizard-of-oz

Being a season ticket holder is one of the most important contributions you can make, allowing the organizations to raise outside cash through advertisement sales and grants based on numbers that show a dedicated audience base. Think of season ticket sales as the down payment, the initial investment that allows the organizations to confidently march forward. How wonderful to sell most of your seats before you even open. The positive side for the patron is the security of having the best seats for the best shows in town and always at a large savings from purchasing each ticket individually.

Theater is alive and well in the Greater Portland area, yet the future is always uncertain, leaving me to urge every reader to take upon themselves the important duty of taking a child to a live performance at least once this season. The magic generated from a live performance is intoxicating.

Right now, at the Falmouth Footlights Theater, the classic THE WIZARD OF OZ is being performed. Located at 190 US Rte. 1, the show runs through Sept. 28. For tickets call 207-747-5434. The Portland Stage Company will present A CHRISTMAS CAROL this holiday season and the Portland Players will mount everyone's favorite new holiday classic, A CHRISTMAS STORY — THE MUSICAL.

The Children's Theater of Maine is alive and kicking over 80 years since its inception and offers wonderful shows for young actors and young audiences alike. The Children's Theater is part of the Children's Museum in downtown Portland and offers a full season of programming. This October they present the classic, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, which runs the 17th through the 24th of October.

The city also provides an abundance of classes and activities within the confines of the theater world. Taking theater classes isn't about becoming a famous "star," but a great way to build confidence, learn to work as a team, be crazy and artistic without hurtful words from the outside world and find a place of acceptance. Introducing the next generation to this art form will be a blessing for the future.

I'm about to hunker down and enjoy the dozens of productions being readied this season, all within a couple miles of downtown. Going to the theater. Isn't that one of the main reasons we live in a city in the first place?

(Harold Withee is a member of Actors' Equity and SAG/AFTRA.)

Last Updated on Friday, 26 September 2014 01:45

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