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Wednesday, 21 September 2022 12:31

The complexity of connection – ‘Clarkston’

BANGOR – The power of connection – for good and for ill – is taking center stage at the Bangor Opera House.

“Clarkston,” by Samuel Hunter, opens the 49th season for Penobscot Theatre and runs through October 2. It also marks new artistic director Jonathan Berry’s directorial debut with the company. It’s a bold beginning, one that seems to speak directly to Berry’s tastes and passions as a theatre artist.

It’s an intimate piece, packed with emotional impact and driven by the relationships formed by family or fate and how our humanity is shaped by those relationships. It is a thoughtful, provocative and surprisingly funny play, with myriad juxtapositions and seeming contradictions brought forward by the complicated dynamic between the two young men at its heart.

Finding something meaningful and real between people is rare, a truth illustrated with heart, humor and hubris by the beautiful and challenging play currently gracing the Opera House boards.

Published in Style

BANGOR – A beloved recent theatrical tradition is returning to the area after a hiatus of a couple of years.

Penobscot Theatre Company’s next production will be the musical “9 to 5,” bringing back the theatre’s summer spectacular for the first time since 2019. This show – based on the 1980 movie of the same name – features music and lyrics by Dolly Parton with a book by Patricia Resnick, who co-wrote the film’s screenplay. Directed by Ethan Paulini, the production’s preview performances are set for June 23 and 24, with the official opening night set for June 25. From there, the show will run through July 31.

“9 to 5” was meant to fill this slot during the 2020 season, but the show was postponed due to COVID. Now – after the summer slot went unfilled in 2021 as well – the big, flashy extravaganza is back!

Past shows to fill this slot – billed for years as the “surprise” show – include musicals like “Rock of Ages,” “The Full Monty” and “Mamma Mia!” The one non-musical exception was the beloved comedy “Shear Madness.” Regardless, the show was always intended to serve as a big, bold close to the season, a chance for area audiences to enjoy some summer fun.

There’s no need to delve too deeply into the plot particulars, but here’s a brief synopsis courtesy of the PTC website:

This hilarious story of friendship and revenge in the rolodex era is outrageous, thought-provoking, and even a little romantic! When three female co-workers are pushed to the boiling point, they each concoct hilarious plans to get even with the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot they call their boss. Hey, a girl can scheme, can’t she?

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Seeing a show of this scale grace the Bangor Opera House stage once again is truly welcome. However, that scale means that there are a LOT of people working VERY hard to bring the production to life. Whether we’re talking about the performers or the production team, making something this big work involves a ton of collaborative effort.

As such, I thought it might be nice to offer readers a bit of perspective on the show through some conversations with a few of the principals. Director Ethan Paulini and actors Christie Robinson and Heather Astbury-Libby – two of the three women in the central trio – were kind enough to share some of their thoughts about the show, their process and what it’s like to be bringing summer excitement back to the Opera House stage.

Published in Cover Story

BANGOR – What does it mean to take to the stage and portray a real person? How does one capture the essence of a cultural figure while still making the performance one’s own? And what if there’s no one up on that stage to help you find your way?

This is the dilemma facing Jen Shepard as she prepares to take the stage for Penobscot Theatre Company’s production of the one-woman show “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” written by Mark St. Germain and directed by Julie Lisnet. The show goes into previews on May 5, with opening night set for May 7; it runs through May 22 at the Bangor Opera House.

It’s the life story of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who many of us probably remember as one of the first sex-positive television personalities out there. Her diminutive stature and engaging accent made her a popular figure in pop culture – particularly in her heyday – but there’s so much more to the woman than the smiling sex therapist so many of us remember. Dr. Ruth’s is a life richly lived – one more than worthy of being brought to light onstage.

As you might imagine, a character like this – and a show like this – presents a number of interesting challenges for a performer. Shepard sat down with me to discuss those challenges, as well as what drew her to the role and what the process has been like in bringing this show to life.

Published in Style
Wednesday, 30 March 2022 12:04

PTC hits the ice with ‘Hockey Mom’

BANGOR – Penobscot Theatre Company is taking to the ice with their latest production.

The fictional town of Clara, Maine, has been Travis G. Baker’s wellspring for three plays with world premieres at Penobscot Theatre Company. The latest, “Hockey Mom,” may well be the best; this new show runs through April 16 at the Bangor Opera House.

Published in Style

BANGOR – An unconventional love story is playing out on the stage of the Bangor Opera House.

“Maytag Virgin,” written by Audrey Cefaly and directed by Tricia A. Hobbs, is the latest entry in Penobscot Theatre Company’s 48th season. A sweet and charming two-hander, it’s a story about what it means to be in love and the many different paths that can lead us to finding that love we seek. The show runs through Feb. 27.

Playing out over the course of a year, it’s a look at the evolving relationship between two people whose connection begins in the simplest of ways – proximity. They’re new neighbors whose backyards are adjacent, meaning that they are thrust into one another’s orbits. What they do once that shared orbit is entered, however … well, love, like life, is as much about the journey as it is the destination.

Published in Buzz

BANGOR – There are few tasks more difficult for a performer to execute than holding a stage solo. To be up there under the lights all by yourself – it’s a staggering responsibility. It demands a combination of presence and willpower that requires massive effort to generate and even more effort to maintain. To do this for even a few minutes is an incredible and admirable feat.

Now imagine doing it for an entire show.

That’s what Brianne Beck is doing in “Tell Me on a Sunday,” the latest production from Penobscot Theatre Company. Directed and choreographed by Dominick Varney, this show – with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Don Black – is a one-woman tour de force, a story of ambition and disappointment, both personal and professional. The show runs through January 23 at the Bangor Opera House.

This one-act show is a non-stop musical experience, with Beck vocally carrying the story forward with the help of a three-piece band (one that includes musical director David Madore on keyboards). It’s a story both sweet and sad, one told beautifully through song.

Published in Style

BANGOR – We’re all intimately familiar with the story of the Grinch. We all know about his disdain for Christmas and his malicious attempts to steal the joy of the season from the innocents of Whoville and, yes, his subsequent change of heart.

But what happened after that?

Penobscot Theatre Company looks to answer that very question with their production of Matthew Lombardo’s “Who’s Holiday,” running through December 26 at PTC’s secondary space at 51 Main Street in Bangor. However, you should be warned – while the original tale was aimed at kids, this show – directed by Cheryl Snodgrass and starring A.J. Mooney – very much is NOT.

What’s the show about? Let’s try to tell it like the maestro would, shall we?

Published in Style
Wednesday, 01 December 2021 13:42

Ready, Set, Go! takes over the PTC stage

BANGOR - Even as they return to their usual slate of live shows, Penobscot Theatre Company’s latest offering is decidedly unusual.

The new improv series “Ready, Set, Go!” is a collaboration between PTC and ImprovAcadia, the legendary Maine comedy group. This is the first of a series of joint productions between the two companies; December will see another with the New Year’s show “Auld Lang Zing!” 

The premise of “Ready, Set, Go!” is simple: on the second Sunday of each PTC show’s run at the Opera House, a group of actors will improvise an original play on the show’s set. The remaining performances will be in January, February, April, May and July of 2022.

Published in Style

BANGOR – One of the region’s most steadfast and beloved cultural institutions is gearing up to get back onstage.

Penobscot Theatre Company is on the verge of getting back to live, in-person theatre. The company announced their upcoming season with a virtual town hall event last month, but now that we’re approaching that first opening night, it seemed appropriate to do a full-on season preview.

While PTC did a wonderful job of finding ways to pivot into the digital realm last season, crafting a thoughtful and high-quality season in “Digitus Theatrum” that found ways to maneuver around the multitude of obstacles raised by the circumstances of the pandemic, there’s no question that they – and theatre lovers in Bangor and beyond – are eager to take their seats at the Bangor Opera House and be transported by the special magic of live performance.

This new season marks the company’s 48th, if you can believe it. For nearly half a century, Penobscot Theatre Company has been a cultural cornerstone for the region, the northeasternmost professional theatre company in the United States. It is a foundational piece of our area’s creative fabric, one of the many incredible organizations that bring the arts to life in this place that we call home.

There’s a lot of great stuff coming. From a beloved holiday classic to a Maine playwright’s premiere, from a pair of one-woman shows to a romantic two-hander to a big, bold musical, PTC has put together a collection of offerings that will feature something for just about every theatregoer out there.

And there have been changes in the organization as well, the biggest being the ascension of Tricia A. Hobbs, longtime PTC staff member, to the position of Acting Artistic Director of the company following the departure of previous Artistic Director Bari Newport earlier this year. Hobbs has worn numerous hats during her time at PTC – she has worked as a scenic designer and director, as well as serving as production manager and technical director. Her hands-on experience with so many facets of the theatrical experience make her a worthy choice to steer the ship during this turbulent time.

Now, this is a much later kickoff to the season than we usually see from PTC, with the first show opening in mid-November rather than early September. Rather than rush the process, the team opted to take careful steps as they moved forward, taking into account still-shifting situations. That said, these folks are definitely ready to get back to it.

So what should people expect? I spoke to Hobbs and PTC Executive Director Jen Shepard about what the upcoming season will hold – both in terms of what audiences will see and how they will experience it.

Published in Cover Story
Monday, 24 May 2021 15:31

Bari Newport bids goodbye to Bangor

BANGOR – One of the Bangor area’s artistic stalwarts is saying goodbye.

Bari Newport, longtime artistic director of Penobscot Theatre Company, is moving on after nine seasons at the PTC helm. She will be continuing her artistic journey at GableStage in Miami, Florida, assuming the mantle of producing artistic director at the company.

Over the course of her tenure at PTC, Newport has been at the forefront of the steady growth of the region’s creative culture. The company has long been a foundational piece of the artistic fabric of the area; under her stewardship, the already outsized presence of the company continued to grow.

The company has thrived under her leadership. She was a major part of the ongoing effort to renovate the interior of the Bangor Opera House, updating the space in ways beneficial to both comfort and aesthetics. It was also on her watch that the company purchased and renovated the former firehouse that would become the combination scene/costume shop known colloquially as “the Theatre Factory.”

And of course, there’s the work itself.

Putting together a cohesive season for a regional theatre is no small task, but Newport has assembled some excellent ones during her time here. Finding the balance between artistic challenge and aesthetic spectacle, she was able to build seasons that provided broad appeal for audiences and broad opportunities for actors both near and far.

(In the interest of full disclosure, this is probably where we should note that the writer of this piece has a longstanding relationship with Penobscot Theatre Company and with Bari Newport. I could sit here and tell you that I’m going to remain unbiased, but that would be a lie. PTC is an important place to me and Bari is my friend; this story will reflect both of those truths.)

Published in Cover Story
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