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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 – Sex sells. Even when the person discussing it might not be who you’d expect.

Penobscot Theatre Company’s latest production is “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” a one-person show celebrating the life and times of renowned sex therapist and pop cultural icon Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Starring Jen Shepard and directed by Julie Lisnet, the piece – written by Mark St. Germain – is running at the Bangor Opera House through May 22. For tickets or more information, visit the PTC website at www.penobscottheatre.org or call the box office at 942-3333.

The piece – which is set entirely within Dr. Ruth’s New York City apartment – takes place on a June day in 1997. It is a freewheeling tale of one woman’s incredible journey, one that took her all over the world and influenced her in ways large and small – all related to us by the woman herself. The vast majority of us think we know Dr. Ruth – the tiny smiling woman offering sex advice via radio and television – but that aspect of her life, while important, is just one part of her incredible story.

Published in Style

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

The Maine theatre community – and the theatre world writ large – has lost a legend.

George Vafiadis, whose decades-spanning theatrical career included the founding of three seminal Maine companies – all of which are still in operation today – passed away on March 9 in Bradenton, Florida from complications caused by his ongoing battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Vafiadis did scores of stage shows as an actor and director, having worked with regional companies and colleges all over the country. He also did extensive television, film and voiceover work over the course of his illustrious career.

But one could argue that he was more impactful here in Maine than anywhere else.

Published in Buzz

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
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