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The play is the thing

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A preview of the 2012-13 PTC season

BANGOR The 2012-2013 season from Penobscot Theatre Company is upon us.

This year marks the 39th season for Bangor's professional theatre, as well as the first full season for new Artistic Director Bari Newport, who has been at the helm since January of this year.

It's a vast and varied collection of plays, with Maine premieres and classics, madcap comedies and challenging dramas. There really is something for all tastes.

Leading off is 'Always Patsy Cline.' This musical, written by Ted Swindley, tells the true story of the legendary country singer's deep and enduring friendship with a fan by the name of Louise Seger. It's a fun and sentimental look at the power of friendship, with the added bonus of a wealth of Cline's beautiful songs.

'A board member asked me about ['Always'],' said Newport. 'Then, I was randomly asked by an audience member if I had heard of it.

'It's a hootenanny; I think people want to have fun at the theatre. There's a five piece band onstage; there are 27 songs in the show. It's a true story I'm a sucker for biographies and I wanted the first show of the season to have some name recognition.'

Next up is 'Becky's New Car,' a play by Steven Dietz. Becky Foster is dealing with being in 'the middle' a middle-aged middle manager dealing with a mediocrity of a marriage. This looks like the life she's destined to live until a new man enters the picture, offering a chance at true change. It's a comedy laced with seriousness and if you're one of the lucky ones, you might wind up as part of the show.

'The first time I read ['Becky's New Car'], I knew that I really wanted to direct this play,' Newport said. 'It was the freshest storytelling I had seen in a long time.

'I have a clear vision of it; I'm chomping at the bit to get started,' she continued. 'The play is about choices and I love the idea of choices. It's the biggest wild card of the season.'

This year's holiday offering from PTC is 'Annie.' The story of Little Orphan Annie and her journey to finding a family of her own is one of the most beloved musicals out there. The show is even being revived on Broadway this year, but you won't have to travel to the Great White Way to see it. With great songs and iconic characters, it's a theatrical experience for the entire family.

'This show is going to be really cool,' said Newport. 'We were looking for the best Christmas show to do right now; this was the first play I ever saw and the first play I was ever in; it's a fairy tale really.

'The show has a cast of 20; we had 75 kids audition. It really lends itself to a production that doesn't have to be standard; it's an imaginative theatrical experience. And it's always nice when grandparents can bring their grandchildren to a show.'

Taking the lead in 2013 is a show called 'The Sugar Bean Sisters,' written by Nathan Sanders. It's a self-styled Southern Gothic comedy set in the Florida swamps and populated with quirky characters unlike any you've seen before. It's a story filled with mystery; religious fervor and space aliens, family legends and deceptions galore.

'This show has had a big impact on my life,' Newport said. 'It first crossed my desk about 10 years ago; it had never been published. After our production, it was immediately published it has been produced over 90 times since, although never in Maine.

'It's got elements of the supernatural, but at its core, it is a story of sisterhood,' she added. 'It's an amazing combination of classic Southern Gothic and 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind.'

After that comes the award-winning drama 'Wit,' by Margaret Edson. The play recounts the final hours of Dr. Vivian Bearing, a university English professor who is dying of ovarian cancer. She recounts her life by way of the intricacies of the English language particularly the wit inherent to the works of the metaphysical poet John Donne; we learn who she is via these flashbacks.

'I was surprised this play had never been produced here before,' said Newport. 'Some people think it is risky;' I don't see it as risky at all. It's a Pulitzer Prize-winner. It's a tour-de-force role for the lead actress and a wonderful ensemble piece.

'Everyone has a survival story,' she continued. 'The notion of death has become a distant thing; we like to pretend it isn't happening. This show challenges that.'

PTC finishes out the season with a stage version of the Jules Verne classic 'Around the World in 80 Days,' adapted by Mark Brown. It's the story of gentleman Phileas Fogg and his legendary wager; he bets an acquaintance that he can travel around the world in 80 days. He puts his fortune on the line and rushes across the continents, having adventure after adventure on the way. This adaptation comes with a twist all 39 roles are played by just five actors.

'This new adaptation is very hot,' Newport said. 'It has had a very robust life regionally lately.

'The book is a favorite of a lot of people. It can be silly, yes, but it's also about adventure and saying yes and taking risks. This adaptation lends itself to being highly theatrical I know when I go to [the theater], I go to see something I can't see in any other medium.'

In addition to these six shows, PTC also has a wealth of other offerings. Their Dramatic Academy is in full swing, offering both youth and adult classes. Their youth program is doing two shows this season. They are also expanding their offsite programs including a touring show and revamping the Northern Writes festival.

All in all, it looks like a year of big doings at the Bangor Opera House.

For more information on the 2012-2013 season at the Penobscot Theatre Company, visit their website at www.penobscottheatre.org.

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