Friday, June 11, 2004

Summer feast: Maine's theaters fire up the footlights

Published in the Portland Phoenix

The time has come for me to shift focus and leave the world of reviewing theater for the Phoenix. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop attending or enjoying Maine’s myriad theatrical offerings.

Here is the list I’ll use to plan my summer theater outings.

First, close to home are several great options.

• At Ogunquit Playhouse, make sure to see Les Miserables, performed entirely by students, running from June 17 through 19. And for five days only, June 21 through 26, catch Sally Struthers and Christa Jackson back this summer in Always...Patsy Cline. A three-week run of Cats will be a highlight in the midsummer, from July 27 through August 14. Ogunquit always gets good people to perform, with strong direction and a great sound system in an air-conditioned space. Tickets are $29 to $45; call (207) 646-5511.

• Among the offerings at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick is the story of a hidden village’s centennial reappearance, and the love that springs from its discovery. Brigadoon will run from July 21 through August 7. Maine’s only professional music theater, MSMT always does a great job finding singers and performers who enrapture audiences and enchant the stage, so a story like Brigadoon is a natural match. Tickets run from $26 to $44. Call (207) 725-8769.

• At the Children’s Theatre of Maine in Portland, kids from 2 to 92 will be enthralled by the magical world of Fairy Houses, adapted by CTM Artistic Director Pamela DiPasquale from the book by Tracy Kane. It follows a young girl on vacation in Maine who finds fairy shelters and wonders what happens inside them. Runs from July 7 through August 7. Call (207) 828-0617. Tickets cost $7 for children and seniors, $9 for adults.

Arundel Barn, a great spot with great ability to draw strong performers, will end their summer season with tick, tick...BOOM!, a show by Rent author Jonathan Larson, offering insight into the mind of a composer feeling stuck (August 3 through 14); and Idols of the King (August 17 through September 4), exploring the fans and myths of Elvis Presley. Tickets are $19 to $24. Call (207) 985-5552.

Those crossing the border to New Hampshire can enjoy not only sales-tax-free shopping, but strong theater performances as well.

• At the Players’ Ring in Portsmouth, NH, every Tuesday night from June 15 through August 24 will bring something new, with Tuesday Night Improv, hosted by local theater troupe Stranger Than Fiction. Other strong showings at the historic building near Prescott Park will include I Know This Is Not Goodbye, a pair of new one-acts by Seacoast playwright Lars Trodson (July 9 through 11); Dead Lawyers, about a "totally dysfunctional" law firm and how the American legal system really works, based on interviews with citizens about their lawyers (July 23 through 25); the Harvey Fierstein play Tidy Endings, about the aftermath of a death from AIDS (August 6 through 8); and a pair of true Cold War spy stories by Alan Bennett (Single Spies: An Englishman Abroad from August 8 through 10, and Single Spies: A Question of Attribution from August 20 through 23). Call (603) 436-8123. Tickets are $10.

Pontine Theater has finished a new community collaborative project called Portraits of the Past, based on the history of Portsmouth’s Rundlet-May House. The text is drawn from an 1852 article from Portsmouth’s Daily Morning Chronicle about James Rundlet, the merchant who built the house in 1807; a family history written by Ralph May, the last descendant of James Rundlet; and letters written by family members. The play will be performed twice, on June 20 and June 26. Admission is free. Seating is limited, however, so reservations are encouraged. Call (603) 436-6660.

And for planning your field trips and weekend getaways, look at these shows in fantastic destination spots around Maine:

• When you’re in Bar Harbor, stop off at Acadia Repertory Theater, where the amazing relationship between Alfred Steiglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe is explored in Lanie Robertson’s play Alfred Stieglitz Loves O’Keeffe from June 28 through July 11. The solid, if rustic, performances at Acadia Rep are very enjoyable, especially when you’re relaxed from a day on the beach or hiking the hills of Mount Desert Island. And from July 13 through 25 Acadia Rep will also put on the Marie Jones play Stones In His Pockets, the Maine premiere of a play about Hollywood invading a small Irish town. The comparison between that town and Waterville’s Empire Falls experience last summer could be fascinating. Call (207) 244-7260 for tickets, which cost $20 for general admission.

• At Lakewood Theater near Skowhegan are several shows Mainers have liked at other local venues, including the musical romantic comedy I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (July 1 through 10); the noir comedy Red Herring (July 15 through 22); and the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Proof (August 26 through September 4). Call (207) 474-7176 for tickets, from $18 to $26.

Theater at Monmouth, always well worth the drive, will show off its Shakespearean strength in As You Like It (July 2 through August 21) and Antony and Cleopatra (July 30 through August 19), as well as comic range in The Liar (July 8 through August 21), Idiot’s Delight (July 23 through August 20), and The Complete History of America, humorously abridged to fit into two hours including intermission (August 10 and 17). Call (207) 933-9999 for tickets, which range from $20 to $26.

• A quick-hit festival not to be missed is the ≤15 Minute Festival in Belfast, honoring pieces that take less than 15 minutes to perform. The festival will have performances of winning pieces August 27 and 28 and staged readings of the runners-up August 20 and 21. Several workshops will be held in the intervening week. For more information, call (207) 338-1615.