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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

It’s hard to make a good movie about the theatre.

You would think that it would be relatively easy, considering the considerable overlap between the two worlds. It’s all about people coming together to tell a story, right? And yet, films that revolve around the theatrical world rarely seem to fully click. Sure, making the stage-to-screen transition with a script is a long-honored and successful tradition, but successful movies set in the theatre? Those come along much more rarely.

But rarely is not never.

Take “See How They Run,” the new film from Tom George. Written by Mark Chappell, it’s a screwball deconstruction of the time-tested murder mystery genre, bringing together layers and metalayers to mine laughs from one of the theatre’s most beloved traditions – the whodunit.

Packed with winks and nods to those of a theatrical persuasion, “See How They Run” offers a shaggy combination of affection for and skewering of the conventions of the theatre. All of it refracted through a foundational lens of the Grand Dame of mystery herself, Agatha Christie. It’s a murder mystery within a murder mystery within a murder mystery – whodunits all the way down.

Published in Movies

BREWER – One of the region’s most beloved summer theatre traditions is once again gracing the great outdoors.

Ten Bucks Theatre is offering up their annual outdoor Shakespeare adventure. This year’s production is “Romeo and Juliet,” running through July 31 at Brewer’s Indian Trail Park before moving to Fort Knox in Prospect for performances Aug. 4-7. All shows start at 6 p.m. You can find out more at www.tenbuckstheatre.org or by checking them out on Facebook.

There’s nothing quite like sitting outside and letting the brilliance of the Bard wash over you. Ten Bucks Theatre has been giving area audiences that opportunity for years; why not take advantage of the opportunity to see one of his greatest works play out in the bright sunshine?

Now, you probably don’t need me to explain the plot of “Romeo and Juliet” to you – it’s one of the most well-known stories in the entire Western canon. In fact, why don’t I let Prince Escalus give you the heads up? He spells it all out in the Prologue, after all.

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

I mean, that’s pretty great, right? And it’s even better when you hear Ben Layman deliver it.

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

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.)

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

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.

Published in Style
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