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A theatrical trifecta

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Three very different shows open in the area

ORONO/EDDINGTON Sometimes, our local theatrical scene is an embarrassment of riches.

Three different productions opened this past weekend. Three distinct pieces of theater appeared, offering a little something for everyone.

Perhaps the stage version of a well-regarded story of one girl's life during wartime is what you're looking for. Maybe you're more intrigued by a production of one of dramatic literature's most beloved and powerful classics. Or you might want to see the musical version of a horror movie classic.

If any or all of these sound appealing, you're in luck. Thanks to Ten Bucks Theatre Company, the University of Maine School of Performing Arts and Some Theatre Company, your theatergoing options abound.

The gray lives we lead

UMaine presents Chekhov's 'The Cherry Orchard'

ORONO While there's no disputing the fact that every year sees more and more wildly imaginative and daring works of contemporary theater, the truth remains that sometimes it's nice to spend a little time with a classic.

There are few better places in which to spend that time than in an academic environment. The energy and passion of young theater students lends itself beautifully to the exploration of more classic works, pieces whose age doesn't prevent them from maintaining their relevance and power. It's a chance to give students an ideal and intensive learning experience.

The University of Maine School of Performing Arts is doing just that with their production of Anton Chekhov's 'The Cherry Orchard,' running through November 15 at Hauck Auditorium on the University of Maine campus.

The Ranevskaya estate has fallen onto hard times and the owners are unable (or unwilling) to take the steps necessary to reverse their fallen fortunes. Lyubov (Liz Ayotte) has lost all of her money, while her brother Gayev (Cam Goodwin) is a shiftless layabout who can think only of leisure. They, along with Lyubov's daughter Anya (Nellie Kelly) and adopted daughter Varya (Amelia Courtney), have returned to Russia after an extended stay abroad in Paris.

Lopahin (John Dalton Logan) is now a successful businessman, but he began his life connected with the Ranevskayas he was born into a family of serfs that served on the estate. He hopes to encourage Lyubov to take steps to ensure the family's solvency steps that include chopping down their beloved cherry orchard to make way for summer cottages before they lose everything at auction.

However, the family simply refuses to acknowledge the seriousness of their plight, instead choosing to operate as if the day will somehow be saved. Romances bloom even as the debts continue to mount; the solutions the family seeks turn out to be illusory or ineffective, leaving them to wonder just what will become of their beloved cherry orchard.

And so it goes.

To be honest, I find the notion of synopsizing Chekhov unsettling and more than a bit disingenuous. The brilliance of this work comes not from what happens, but how it happens. There's a great deal of complexity to Chekhov's narrative, with interpersonal dynamics and human nature assuming center stage throughout. Going from A to B to C with plot summary feels coarse and gratuitous.

It is an immensely challenging piece for actors, demanding a great deal of subtlety and nuance to convey the large feelings of people inclined to conceal their emotional state. Call it a comic tragedy or a tragic comedy; 'The Cherry Orchard' walks that line between laughter and tears in a way that no dramatic work had ever done before.

The educational benefits to producing a play such as this one in an academic setting are obvious. However, the relative youth and inexperience of the cast presents its own obstacles; bringing an intricate, emotionally layered piece such as this one to life with a cast of college students would seem daunting.

Rather than be daunted, however, director Marcia Joy Douglas has brought together an ensemble of talented young actors and turned them into a tightly-knit cast. While there are occasional missteps, the energy and enthusiasm that these students bring to the stage more than compensates for the odd hiccup. They exhibit a thoughtful understanding of the story being told and hence can ensure that it is told well; the credit for that lay at the feet of the director.

Those young actors acquit themselves well. Ayotte vacillates between imperiousness and desperation, bringing a sad nobility to a broken woman; she's one to watch. Meanwhile, Logan's deep vocal tones inform Lopahin with a sense of much-needed gravitas, creating a dynamic stage presence that is inescapable. In Goodwin's hands, Gayev is an amiable simpleton, while Kelly and Courtney bring varied shades of light and dark to their respective relationships; Kelly's chemistry with Zachary Peacock as the eternal student Trofimoff is especially compelling.

On the production side of things, scenic designer Dan Bilodeau has outdone himself with this one. The Hauck stage has been given a pronounced rake, giving the visual perspective a distinct twist that reflects the many lives being upended. The colorful and abstract backdrop evokes the never-seen cherry orchard in a visceral and compelling way, aided immensely by lighting designer Jamie Grant's deft and rich light plot. Kathleen Brown's costumes are spot-on, lush and intricate visual representations of class and status, while Frederick Sawyer's sound design puts the finishing touches on a well-realized world.

Chekhov is one of those literary names that can be a little intimidating. Rest assured, this production of 'The Cherry Orchard' is an accessible and engaging piece of theater that deserves your attention. Something good is growing on the University of Maine stage.

The Diary of Anne Frank' a dear diary indeed

Ten Bucks Theatre thoughtfully explores well-known tale

EDDINGTON The story of Anne Frank is a compelling and heartbreaking one, a tale of one young girl's struggle to maintain her optimism and humanity in the face of the Nazi threat and the persecution of the Jewish people.

She and her family along with some others spent nearly two years in hiding, forced to rely on the kindness of a few friends in order to stay off the Nazi radar. In short, they hid to survivea goal that, sadly, most of them would ultimately fail to achieve.

Through Anne's diary which would become a worldwide literary sensation upon its publication in 1947 the world was given a glimpse at the lives of those impacted by this brutal period, a chance to bear witness to the everyday lives largely unseen in the massive shadows of history.

Ten Bucks Theatre Company is presenting their production of 'The Diary of Anne Frank' by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett as newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman.The show, directed by Ben Layman, is running throughNovember 15at the Eddington-Clifton Civic Center in Eddington.

When we first meet Anne (Emma Paterson-Dennis), she is a vivacious 13-year-old girl living with her parents Otto (Randy Hunt) and Edith (Andrea Littlefield) and her older sister Margot (Moira Beale) in the Netherlands. They struggle beneath the pressures of Jewish persecution under Nazi occupation, but have managed to maintain some semblance of normalcy.

All that changes when Margot's name comes up for forced relocation to a work camp. The Franks set into motion their plan to go into hiding. Rather than flee to the countryside, the Franks with the help of their friends Mr. Kraler (Nathan Roach) and Miep Gies (Kathryn Ravenscraft) take up residence in the annex attached to Mr. Frank's old office building.

They are joined by family friends Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan (Steve Estey and Irene Dennis) and their teenaged son Peter (Brogan Kelley); later, local dentist Mr. Dussel (Garrett Fitzgerald) joins them. They spend the subsequent months crammed into a too-small space, growing sadder and hungrier with each passing day; they are required to stay silent throughout the daylight hours in order to avoid discovery.

All the while, an older Anne (Morgan Wiercinski) is also dealing with adolescence realities exacerbated by her confined quarters. She's growing upand not even her extreme circumstances can stop her. And everyone continues to hope against hope that they will manage to safely see their way through to the end of the war.

Unfortunately, life's endings aren't always happy ones.

It's little wonder that this story remains popular around the world. Despite or perhaps because of the near-ubiquity of Anne Frank's story, the book remains a staple of schoolrooms and the play a regular choice of theater companies all over the globe. Her intimate portrait of the lives being lived during dark times is an eye-opening and impactful work, one that adds perspective to atrocities almost too large to comprehend.

Evil Dead: The Musical

ORONO Some Theater Company's production of Evil Dead: The Musical (directed by Elaine Bard) is a fun, breezy, bloody, profanity-laced tribute to 'Evil Dead,' the classic 1981 movie.

The story follows a group of college kids led by Ash (Logan Bard) as they go to a cabin in the woods to party. They soon find it harbors a great evil that is unwittingly unleashed. Soon the trees are alive and the dead start returning from the grave. It's up to Ash, his chainsaw and his shotgun to survive the night.

As with the movie, this production is covered in a thick layer of cheese. The characters are cheesy, the songs are cheesy and the jokes are especially cheesy. There isn't a lot of subtletyto the humor which is the way it should be, and at times had the audience laughing out loud. One of the best running jokes was a subversion of what happens in the movie. Ash's sister Cheryl (Erryn Bard) is the first to be possessed and is locked in the basement. In the movie she torments Ash by popping her head out and saying creepy things. In the live version, she regularly pops out to deliver some of the most ham-fisted puns you have ever heard often followed with evil cackling. Despite this happening over and over again, it was funny every time thanks to Erryn Bard playing it over the top and then some. Scott (Paul Allen) was the other comedic highlight. At first his character seemed unpleasantly abrasive, but he quickly became hilarious. Make no mistake, Scott is supposed to be a real jerk, but Allen played him in a way that it became fun to watch him and Ash freak out together.

The standout song was a duet shared by Ash and Scott. It is titled 'What!?!' and resembled a tango. Allen and Bard had great chemistry during this early song and the whole thing really brought the audience on board with the production. A song soon after entitled 'Good Old Reliable Jake' which is sung by Jake (Jake Sherburne) Annie (Logan Tripp) and Ed (Matt Walton) was also one of the highlights. When Annie and Ed question Jake's reliability he launches into a song describing exactly how useful he is (very useful, it turns out).

The production features a splatter zone up front where, which indicated the audience will be sprayed and splashed with fake blood, but it didn't quite live up to its promise. The amount of fake blood was just enough to keep me perpetually damp but not enough to pull much of a reaction out of me. Though, there was one moment in the second half where half of the zone got hosed down with ketchup bottles full of fake blood, which was nice. The biggest gripe with the splatter zone is that it was actually too close to the stage, leaving people about six inches away from whoever was singing or talking at that time. Some may like that, but it can make it difficult to see at times.

Even with the splatter zone being a little disappointing the production itself was fun and well done. It was clear at least a good chunk of the cast and crew have a love for the source material. The first half was a bit more diverse and the jokes were funnier. The second half definitely has more action though. Overall it was a fun, low budget production of a musical based on a fun, low budget movie so you couldn't ask for much more.

Evil Dead: The Musical" will have an encore performanceNov. 20-21at the Unity College Center for the Performing Arts

Last modified on Tuesday, 10 November 2015 20:33

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