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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.

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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.

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Stages all over the state are preparing for an onslaught of theatrical excitement.

The Maine Drama Festival is back and in person this year, with nearly 60 Maine high schools dispersing all over the state to tread the boards with their one-act play performances. The MDF will take place on March 25 and 26 at eight locations. Those locations are as follows:

Camden Hills Regional High School; Ellsworth High School; Stearns High School; Gorham High School; Mount Desert Island High School; Yarmouth High School; Kennebunk High School; and Winthrop High School.

(It should be noted that some, but not all of these locations will be allowing in-person audiences due to varying circumstances surrounding the pandemic. Be sure to check ahead before planning to visit any of these sites and please follow any and all guidelines/requirements put in place by each location.)

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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.

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ORONO – Our history books are filled with the names of those who were first, the intrepid figures who undertook the seemingly impossible in the name of exploration and discovery. But what about the names of those lost along the way?

That’s the underlying question of “Terra Nova,” the current show from the University of Maine’s School of Performing Arts. Written by Ted Tally and directed by Julie Arnold Lisnet and running through Feb. 20, it’s the story of the ill-fated British expedition to the South Pole. The race to be first was ultimately won by the Norwegians, but what these five brave men lost was not just the race to glory, but their very lives.

Adapted from the journals of Robert Scott, the leader of the British expedition, this is a story of what it means to sacrifice everything in the name of knowing the unknown. As these men struggle across a seemingly unending sheet of ice, we’re left to watch as their time slowly, inexorably ticks away. But even as all seemed lost, the one thing that these men never lost … was their courage.

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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
Tuesday, 08 February 2022 15:28

The madness in ‘The Method’

Everyone has a sense of what a good performance looks like. Sure, there’s some room for individual interpretation there, but whether we’re watching a movie or a play or a TV show, we have a certain baseline understanding of what “good” is.

But how does the performer get there?

Isaac Butler’s new book “The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act” (Bloomsbury, $30) is the story of one celebrated, well … method … of doing just that. From its origins in the Russian theatre scene in the early part of the 1900s to its gradual-then-rapid ascent to the apex of American acting, the Method spent decades as one of the preeminent schools of thought regarding performance.

This book treats the Method almost biographically, walking the reader through its embryonic stages with Stanislavski and the Moscow Art Theatre through the acolytes crossing the Atlantic and delivering it to America to the splintering and development of assorted variations on the theme, all of them falling under the umbrella of “the Method.” It is, for intents and purposes, a biography of the Method. Not of those who created it or those who learned it, but of the Method itself.

Some of the greatest actors in American history – stage and screen alike – were students of the Method, though not all learned precisely the same method from the prominent and iconoclastic instructors that brought it to life in the middle of the century. Still, there’s no disputing the impact that the philosophy (however you choose to define it) had – and continues to have – on the acting world.

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BANGOR – Two local theatre companies have collaborated on a holiday production unlike any you’ve seen before.

Ten Bucks Theatre Company and True North Theatre Company have joined forces this holiday season to offer up their production of “Greetings!” The play – written by Tom Dudzik and directed by Tellis K. Coolong – is running through Dec. 19 at the Ten Bucks Theatre space in the Bangor Mall.

The show is a … let’s call it unconventional take on the usual holiday fare, one that utilizes some familiar tropes of the genre only to subvert them in service of a tale that is far weirder than what you usually see this time of year. Weirder, but no less heartfelt because of that. It’s a story of families and the difficulties that they can have, the pitfalls of communication (and lack thereof) and what it means to believe.

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BANGOR – Get ready to drag yourself to the Bangor Arts Exchange for a one-person show unlike anything you’ve seen before.

“Livin’ For Drag: The Making of a Queen” is an original musical featuring Bangor’s own Priscilla Poppycocks and directed by Brad LaBree. With book and lyrics by Dominick Varney and music by Varney, Phil Burns and Harry Burns, the show will take place at the Bangor Arts Exchange on Dec. 4 and Dec. 5. Tickets are available at www.bangorartsexchange.com.

The show explores the journey of one Priscilla Poppycocks and her growth into the fabulous queen that she is today, an autobiographical journey loaded with laughter, tears and plenty of sass. Oh, and more than a few cocktails too.

To help prepare the Queen City for this particular queen, I reached out to speak to Miss Poppycocks (and Mr. Varney too, I guess) about this project. Both were gracious enough to respond to my questions via e-mail – I was unable to meet them in person, for fear of being overwhelmed by sheer fabulousness.

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