After so much bad theater on the political stages this year, we might as well find solace in all the theatrical high points within the actual performance arts. Here we go!
To start, one of my favorite experiences of mingled human despair and beauty was Stupid F***ing Bird, Aaron Posner’s sly, smart, very funny riff on Chekhov’s The Seagull, at Mad Horse. Posner’s writing is both profane and profound, and Chris Price directed a superb ensemble of Brent Askari, Burke Brimmer, David Bliss, Shannon Campbell, James Herrera, Christine Louise Marshall and Casey Turner.
The year was especially fertile in Shakespeare, some of it in celebration of the First Folio tour. An especially subtle and poignant Shakespearean highlight was the Theater at Monmouth’s Henry V, with the exceptional Jake Loewenthal beautifully straddling the roguishness of youth and the wartime resoluteness of kingship. (Monmouth also delivered a lovely distilled Cyrano, bathed in the fond light nostalgia and starring an affecting Chris Holt, under Tess Van Horn’s direction.)
Another favorite lead bard performance was Ian Carlson’s Richard II, who looks into the void of his own reign and identity with excruciating nuance and physical poetry in Portland Shakespeare Company’s inaugural production, staged in the gorgeous nave of St Luke’s.
Also notable were the two bookends of mono-gendered Shakespeare tragedies, Luminous Productions’ all-male King Lear, directed by Dan Burson and starring Michael Howard, and Bare Portland’s all-female Macbeth, in St. Luke’s Cathedral, directed by Carmen-maria Mandley and James Patefield, with haunting original composition by the late Denis Nye (whose rare mind for theatrical composition will be missed by many).
And in a last Shakespeare pick, it was a delight to see JP Guimont back on stage, as part of a formidable team with Rob Cameron and Corey Gagne, in Kevin O’Leary’s new script for Luminous Productions, Roles of a Lifetime, about the men who made the Folio happen.
A more modern classic found deft interpretation in the University of Southern Maine’s breathtakingly acted student production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the directorial finale of William Steele’s 49-year tenure at USM. Steele’s fine cast delivered the fall-of-Rome dysfunction with rich physical nuance and emotional intelligence.
An exquisitely poetic new play came into being this year, through the workshop production and the then fully staged premiere of Carmen-maria Mandley’s The Ballad of Daphnis and Chloe. A lyrical, wise, and empathetic retelling of the ancient Greek myth of two young shepherds discovering love, Daphnis and Chloe was first read last spring in the Mad Horse incubator series By Local. Then, last summer, it received its first full production in the round of the beautiful ballroom of the Mechanics Hall, starring the marvelously paired Michael Dix Thomas and Shannon Campbell; their sensual, youthful candor was a delight.
Another strikingly lyrical production was Figures of Speech’s remarkable puppet staging of The Little Match Girl Passion, composer David Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen story, at Bowdoin College, under the direction of the ensemble’s longtime artistic director, John Farrell. Lang’s intricate composition weaves the story’s text with minimalist renderings of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, and FOS gave the lead role to a delicate, fully-limbed Bunraku puppet, lent remarkably nuanced life by three puppeteers, along with compellingly elemental video projections by Derek Kimball.
Finally, we’ve all been fervently missing the work of Dramatic Repertory Company this season, so it’s wonderful that the company returned to the stage just this past month, with a workshop production of playwright Callie Kimball’s exceptional Sofonisba. Stay tuned for news about DRC’s upcoming full production, along with other theatrical highlights of 2017.
Let’s all take a deep breath now and look forward.