Megan Grumbling

Megan Grumbling

Chekhov in the Park — Fenix Finely Forgoes Shakespeare for Elegant 'Three Sisters'

How many times have you watched Midsummer in a summer park? With all due respect to the Bard, do you ever yearn to enjoy your picnic with some other master of language and the human condition? This summerFenix Theatre Company takes a blessed break from Shakespeare to bring Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece Three Sisters to the Deering Oaks band shell

Now, if Chekhov intimidates you, or if his name conjures only grey Russian misery, rest assured that this excellent Fenix show, directed by Tess Van Horn, is your antidote: It’s wise, wrenching, and funnyIt’s gorgeously staged and exquisitely acted. Its language (in Štĕpán Šimeks lively, modernism-peppered translation) makes a snappy poetry of the colloquial. And in its characters’ myriad desires and heartbreaksyou just might recognize some part of everyone you know.

The title sisters come from a well-off, intellectual Moscow family, but they live in the provinces, where they long for a more sophisticated life. Olga (Reba Short), the maternal eldest, teaches and never married. Masha (Casey Turner), middle sister and bitter, married at 18 to an older schoolteacher (a doddering Kevin O’Leary) she once thought brilliant, and now despises their small town. “Knowing three languages in this shithole,” she laughs sourly, is like “having a sixth finger.” And the youngest, Irina (Hannah Daly), wants passionately to work. “If I could be an ox,” she yearns, “instead of a young lady who sleeps till noon!”

Over four acts, we follow the dreams, fortunes, and loves of the family: their adored little brother Andrei (Peter Brown) loves a peasantNatasha (Heather Irish), of whom his sisters disapprove. Lieutenant Tuzenbach (Joe Bearor) loves Irina, who only likes him back. And jaded Masha is bewitched into an affair with the idealistic Colonel Vershinin (Rob Cameron)Most everyone desiresomething beyond what they have — or else has given up on desire.

The extraordinary Short, Turner, and Daly are deliciously convincing as sisters, with their reversions to childish yelling or giggling, their adult resentments, the deep mutual knowledge behind both exasperation and tenderness. They acutely triangulate and push against the sisters’ roles — Short’s generous, peace-keeping Olga; Daley’s wide, watchful IrinaTurner’s sharply poised Masha, flashing brilliantly between fury and euphoria.

As the man who stirs Masha from her misery, Cameron gives Vershinina touch of antic comedy, stuttering on his own intelligence and enthusiasms. He and Turner craft a lovely meet-cute sequence as Vershinin goofily, endearingly philosophizes to the householdhis and Masha’s appraising gazes meet, and her taut irritation melts away.

Visually, the show is elegant and rich in nuance. Costume design (by Heidi Kendrick) is pitch-perfect: the navy and wine in the officers’ uniforms, the whipped sherbet dresses that mark Natasha as other, the sisters’ own telling constellation of grey, black, and white. Actors range the full depth and levels of the band shell, forming thoughtful, ever-shifting tableaux in arresting depth of field. Between acts (performed without an intermission, but the two hours flycome interludes of simple uke and mandolin (by Megan Tripaldi and Ray D Murdoch Curryand character movement — pacing, greeting, undressing, glaring, reaching. Every gaze, twitch, and touch enriches our sense of their complicated, flawed, yearning selves.

The exceptional ensemble calibrates carefully between comedy and drama, revealing empathy even in small moments. In a blink of a scene, the socially dysfunctional soldier Solyeny (Sean Ramey) hints at deep trauma when we learn why he’s always rubbing and smelling his handsThe cynical, self-loathing doctor (Paul Haley) delivers a comedic but devastating monologue about why he’s drinking again; his nihilism nonetheless allows him a warm, funny rapport with Irina. And “I’m content,” O’Leary’s cuckolded schoolteacher says three times — once to his wife; once, defensively, to Irina; and oncinto the void, on his way into the night.

Chekhov lets us know and care for all of these souls, makes all humanity feel like our own confounding, exasperating, hilarious, heartbreakingly beloved family. And he lets us laugh. So don’t pine for Midsummer. Go to the park, spread your blanket close, and crack open something strong.


Three Sisters | By Anton Chekhov; Directed by Tess Van Horn; Produced by Fenix Theatre Company | Through August 5 | Deering Oaks Park, Portland | Free | www.fenixtheatre.com

  • Published in Theater

Out to Win — MSMT's 'Guys and Dolls' Spins American Myths

The quintessential American musical Guys and Dolls, based on stories by New York writer Damon Runyon, plays like a kind of Dickensian comic book of America. It’s a New York peopled by two vying types, the gambler versus the evangelical — a standoff between those who want to be left to their vices and those who want to save you. Any of this sound familiar? Maine State Music Theatre presents a bright and snazzy production of this American classic, under the direction of DJ Salisbury.

A super opening sequence, snappily choreographed by Salisbury, introduces the multicolored world of Guys and Dolls: It’s a Broadway ecology crawling with tourists and jaded tour guides, streakers and nuns, soul-saving do-gooders and, of course, gamblers in a prism of plaid suits — guys with fedoras, racing cards, and giddily cartoonish New York accents. What do the guys want? All Nathan Detroit (James Beaman) wants is to find a place for his illegal craps game. When high-stakes gambler Sky Masterson (Stephen Mark Lukas) turns up, Nathan, needing capitalmakes him a bet involving the unlikely seduction of missionary Sarah Brown (Kristen Hahn). All Sky wants is to win bets, so the bet is on. And what do the dolls want? Sarah yearns to save the city’s souls, and then she yearns to save Sky. And Nathan’s long-term fiancée, burlesque dancer Adelaide (the beloved Charis Leos, back again at MSMT), just wants to get married already.

The settings of this New York are funhouse archetypes on MSMT’s stage — its Broadway is painted from low angles, so we look up-up-up; Adelaide dances at a decadent, velvety-red Hot Box; Sarah’s mission is pale turquoise and purple inside; the light behind the city skyline changes with the key of the orchestra. Characters are sharply drawn and color-saturated — Nathan and Sky resplendent in double-breasted pinstripes, the missionaries glowing with righteousness in red, cops in blue, guys and dolls in rainbows of dresses and plaid. Salisbury swirls the pot of these colors beautifully on stage in chases, dance numbers and even acrobatics, mingled with the squeaking and tittering of the dolls, the broad-accented banter of the guys.

Lukas’s Sky moves through the city like he owns it; his voice is American cool — smooth, savvy, effortless. He and Hahn, both with dark hair and sweet little forelocks, pair nicely. Hahn’s Sarah has a lucent voice and an earnestness that opens with telling ease into sensuality, once Sky takes her to Havana and sneaks alcohol into her milk. Their chemistry has an innocence and awkwardness that foils perfectly against the resigned and ironic yet nevertheless magnetic Nathan and Adelaide. Beaman’s Nathan has sly timing, wit, and “why me” antics; and Leos, always a favorite in this theater, gives Adelaide a wryness and chutzpah that let her character steer clear of pathos. Her voice is as big and as pricelessly comedic as ever.

Standout scenes of MSMT’s Guys and Dolls include the play’s climactic craps game in the sewer, conjured with a striking forced-perspective backdrop of purple and indigo tunnels, the guys spinning, lunging, and even doing back flips. Sky’s signature number “Luck Be a Lady” is taut with style and desire; and the famous gospel number “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” led by Steve Gagliastro’s swell Nicely-Nicely, is rousing and contagiously kinetic, a tongue-in-cheek communion of gamblers and missionaries crammed into the tiny mission.

Ultimately, of course, both sides win: not only do we get both gambling and virtue; we get gambling in the service of virtue. What myth could be more enduringly American than that?


Guys and Dolls | Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser; Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. Directed and choreographed by DJ Salisbury | Through July 15 | At Maine State Music Theatre, Pickard Theater, 1 Bath Rd, Brunswick | $59-80 | www.msmt.org

 

  • Published in Theater

Theater of the Transformative — TEoC's Original 'Lived Experiences' in Congress Square Park

What is it like to walk through a day in Portland as a person of color? Lived Experiences, the first original devised piece of the Theater Ensemble of Color, offers revealing insights into everyday racism and discrimination. After workshop productions this past weekend at Mayo Street Arts, TEoC will perform Lived Experiences in Congress Square Park the evenings of July 5 and 6.

The first iteration of the script that became Lived Experiences began in May 2015, when playwright and actor Meredythe Dehne Lindsey felt moved to write a theater piece addressing racism for an upcoming race-themed installment of the new-play incubator The Crowbait Club. But Lindsey felt conflicted about authorship. “I knew, being a white person and coming from that place of privilege,” they say, “that it wasn't my place, or appropriate, or even remotely okay, for me to write a moving, informative, and challenging piece about something of which I knew nothing and of which I have never experienced.

So Lindsey reached out to friends Rosalba Breazeale, René Johnson, and Bridgette Kelly — all women of color — to talk about it. “The conversations turned into me just asking them what a day in their life was like, and how racism affected them every day,” Lindsey says. Lindsey took their words verbatim, organized them, added stage directions, and then sent it back to Johnson and Kelly for feedback. A revised version was performed at Crowbait in June, by three white female actors, and it came in second for Best Play. “I think the piece was well received, in that it seemed to make everyone in the audience very uncomfortable (the entire audience being white),” says Lindsey, “but also very moved.”

That fall, TEoC began working with the script, with a series of revisions made by Johnson and fellow TEoC ensemble members Jenny Michaud, Nicole Mokeme, and Christina Richardson, and then by the entire ensemble, to make it truer to the experiences of the group. As Michaud describes the process, ensemble members wrote scenes and monologues about moments when we felt like we were an other, something other than normal.” Johnson and TEoC member Ella Mock synthesized the new scenes into script form, and after more run-throughs and edits, Lived Experiences was ready for its first public workshop performance.

The script moves between devastating, bizarre, and humiliating moments of discrimination. A couple reacts to the news of Philando Castile’s death. A black hospital aid recalls how an old woman with dementia looked at him and then a biohazard symbol, then says she’s seen “Aunt Jemima.” A black actress tells of auditioning for the role of a black woman, receiving a standing ovation, and later being told that “her voice is too good” for the production — and that a white woman has been cast in the role insteadThis playwriting/devising for me has been a journey through the process of embarrassments around revealing truth,” says Michaud. “It's been about constantly telling myself that my experience and my process matter.

Performing in an open public space in the heart of downtown will allow TEoC to bring this conversation front and center in Portland. What excites me about Congress Square Park is the availability of what we are about to do,” says Michaud. “Anybody walking by can come and sit for one of the pieces, or three or four or five, or the whole thing. I'm excited to bring theater to a public place where we may have some unexpected call-outs, comments, audience participation that were not expecting. It's what we're all about.

What should audiences expect from TEoC’s Lived Experiences? Get ready to see us perform as marginalized people, allies, co-conspirators, and straight-up prejudiced humans with miles to go,” says Michaud. “Also, if you don't see your experience anywhere on this stage, let us know, or better yet, come join us! As one of our beginning members said, you can't tell the whole story if you don't have everyone.

Indeed, further revisions and expansions are likely, says Johnson, the more Lived Experiences is performed. This project wont be finished this year, is my best guess,” she says. “We have so much more to say.


Lived Experiences | Created and performed by the Theater Ensemble of Color | Directed by René Johnson and TEoC | Congress Square Park, Portland | July 5-6, Wed-Thu 6 pm | By donation | http://teoc-maine.weebly.com/upcoming-events.html

 

  • Published in Theater

Summer Hits The Stage

Once again, PortFringe has kicked off Portland’s summer of theater, and you have through June 24 to catch some of the crazy — check out last issue’s PF Roundup and this issue’s capsule reviews. 

 

Summer usually proceeds with a measure of Shakespeare, but some of the usual suspects are mixing things up interestingly this year. Fenix Theatre Company is instead staging Chekhov in Deering Oaks Park: Three Sisters runs in the band shell July 13 through August 5. And while Bare Portland has produced Shakespeare in public spaces and a cathedral, this summer they’ll offer a devised adaptation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s arresting proto-feminist classic The Yellow Wallpaper (August 18-26)in the new Eighteen Twenty Wines’ Tasting Room on Anderson St.

Look to the Theater at Monmouth for Shakespeare; Macbeth and Othello are the Bard shows in a season themed “Power, Passion, and Privilege.” The line-up also includes Molière’s The Learned Ladies; Three Days of Rain, about an architect's mysterious will; and Red Velvet, which explores a race, abolition, and theater in 1833 England, when a black American actor is tapped to play Othello (in rep, June 24-August 20). And Mainstage Shakespeare offers A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Winter’s Tale (July 12 through August 12) in rep in Kennebunk and Freeport.

 

And now, the musicals. Maine State Music Theatre presents Always Patsy Cline (June 7-24), Guys and Dolls (June 28 through July 15), Grease (July 19 through August 5), Disney’s Newsies (August 9-26), and, in partnership with Portland Stage Company on the PSC Mainstage, a 1930s/'40s musical revue called The All Night Strut! (August 15 through September 10). The Ogunquit Playhouse launches with Mamma Mia! (through July 1), then moves on to Bullets Over Broadway (July 5-July 29), Ragtime (August 2-August 26), and Heartbreak Hotel (August 30-September 30)Penobscot Theatre Company takes it off with The Full Monty (June 15 through July 9), then stages a musical adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (August 17-20). Biddeford's City Theater stages The Wizard of Oz (July 21 through August 6); while Cast Aside Productions gives us an homage for the disaster films and soundtracks of the ‘70s, in Disaster! The Musical (July 13-16), and then Hedwig and the Angry Inch (August 17-26).

 

Down in Portsmouth, Players’ Ring continues its Late-Night Series, kicking off with the fallible motives and memories of Tape (June 23 through July 2), produced by Towing Jehovah. In Lab Rats (July 7-16), New World Theatre presents a couple making a living in medical experiments; Smirking Heron Productions offer Junior’s Sporting A Mohawk (July 21-30), about two couples, a secret, and porn; and in Heist (August 4-13), by Outcast Productions, a bank robbery devolves. Finally, Theaterography presents Living Through (August 18-27), which jumps through time to examine “the people we feel obliged to love.”

 

Also in PortsmouthNew Hampshire Theatre Project runs one more weekend of its multi-disciplinary Adventures of Oliver Z. Wanderkook (through June 25), which combines movement, an original score, illustrations, and cinema.

Another new work comes from Portland’s Theater Ensemble of Color, which presents their first original devised piece, Lived Experiences, about a day in the life of several multicultural and multiethnic Mainers (workshop performance June 23 and 24 at Mayo Street Arts, and the fully formed version July 5 and 6 in Congress Square Park).

 

Romance is in the air at Deertrees Theatre with Last Train to Nibroc, about love on a cross-country train, and Indoor/Outdoor, a look at relationships through the eyes of a cat (in rep, July 7 through August 18). And it’s all about women at the Footlights at Falmouth, which stages The Ladies Room Written (June 27 through August 31).

 

Finally, the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine invites you to be a helpful munchkin in Dorothy And The Wizard Of Oz: A Participation Play For Children (July 28 through August 19). And big puppets will reign on the Eastern Prom as Mayo Street Arts and the legendary Bread and Puppet presents the Bread and Puppet Circus, an outdoor spectacle on Saturday, September 2 — a date that seems far off but that is, of course, still summer.


Megan Grumbling can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

  • Published in Theater

Early Highlights from the PortFringe Festival

The Fringe goes on! This year, the PF team has had the great idea to offer “first looks” at shows, written by local friends of PF and posted at http://portfringe.com/first-looks/, and here are a few of my own highlights from the first weekend:

The Yellow Wallpaper (Bare Portland – Portland) + from the rib vault in the room that has become mary (New Fruit – Portland)

Absolutely stunning. This jointly devised installation and performance, an abstracted riff on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, are the quintessence of Fringe brazenly experimentalgenre-defyingwondrously disarming. Under the high ceilings of the Mechanics Hall ballroom, New Fruit’s installation is jaw-dropping, and Bare Portland’s immersive performance integrates movement, text, and audience interaction gracefully and with the most sublimely, gently sly wit.

Remaining show: Sat, June 24, 4:15 pm at Mechanics Hall, 619 Congress St.

 Theater deep as hell

Deep As Hell (Jason LeSaldo and Khalil LeSaldo – Portland, ME)

The brothers range through a variety of absurdities in this addictive little sketch comedy show. Their writing is funny and quirky, but it’s their particular idiosyncratic fraternal rapport prickly, intimate, and solidly grounded in its own weird universethat most draws us in and keeps us laughing.

Remaining show: Wed, June 21, 10:45 pm at Portland Stage Storefront, 25A Forest Ave.

Theater antigone richard sewell

The Antigone in Warsaw (Purple Crayon – Portland, ME)

In Richard Sewell’s wartime drama — written in 1968 — a scrappy theater company rehearses Antigone on the eve of Hitler’s crossing into PolandStylishly staged and acted, elegant in its geometries, the show is a thoughtful meditation on the theater of politics, people, and theater itself.

 

Remaining shows: Thurs, June 22, 5:45 pm & Sat, June 24 at 5:45 at Portland Stage Studio, 25A Forest Ave.

 Theater box of clowns

The Paranormal Pair (Box of Clowns – Portland, OR)

This very funny duo from the other Portland totally delivers — in drag — as a ghost-finding team, with Laura Loy as a nerdy ghost hunter and Jeff Sesautels as Gothic lady medium. They cheekily and deftly subvert a ton of TV tropes (reenactments, cheesy music stings, This is Your Life), pull off A+ physical comedy, and draw their earnest misfit characters hilariously and — crucially — with obvious affection.

Remaining shows: Wed, June 21, 7:30 pm & Fri, June 23 at 9:15 at Portland Stage Studio, 25A Forest Ave.

  • Published in Theater

Giving In To Trickery — Bess Welden's 'Legbala is a River'

To hear the story of Legbala is a River, we’re invited into a bright, round tent of white cloth, to sit with our feet bare in red sand. A woman moves among us to tell her story, and what we hear first is a question: “Is it ok for me to say,” she asks, “that I don’t miss him all the time?”

“He” is her husband, a doctor, who has left her and their two kidsfor six weeks, to fight an Ebola outbreak in Liberia. Our protagonist, an engineer, experiences mixed feelings and a world of questioning. Legbala is a Riverwritten and performed by Bess Weldenis this woman’s meditation, accompanied by live illustration and animated projections (by Leticia Plate) and an original score performed live (by Hans Indigo Spencer), and staged in an immersive installation (by Meg A. Anderson) at Mayo Street Arts, under the direction of Dan Burson.

As she details the woman’s thoughts, Welden ranges the full area of the circle, involving us in the story with her movements and her equally intimate vocal range. Above us, much of the tent is open; just three swathes of cloth meet at the center, and the widest of these acts as a screen for projections of water, webs, or skeletons. Spencer shifts the tone musically between wistful and minor on keyboards, upbeat on the ukulele, and urgent on drums; the lights (Michaela Denoncourt’s design) also change often — inside the tentthe light is now cool, now warm; from outside, white or bright red seeps inside. The entire design, collectively, helps conjure the frequent shifts in the protagonist’s psychic space.

Throughout Legbala, Welden masterfully changes up storytelling modes as wellWe hear the protagonist’s conversations with her precocious kids, her Southern mother (all gamely, charmingly acted out by Welden), and on the phone with her husband (voiced by Christopher Holt). Her talks with him give us the affecting chance to watch her not speaking, to see a pause of her hands or a tightening of her jaws a measure of how much she is keeping under controlOther times, her movement drives home a sense of her terror, as during a mud-streaked catharsis scene in the rain (which perhaps runs a bit long). Especially arresting is when she ritualistically and with spooky resolve dresses herself in a hoodie, bandana mask, ski goggles, and latex gloves: an approximation of a doctor’s hazmat gear.

Another narrative thread involves a children’s story based on the African tale of Anansi, the wise trickster spider and his quest to the land of death. As the protagonist reads to her children, Letitia Plate draws simple drawings in black and white — of spider, river, the king of the dead — and it is gently mesmerizing to watch, the visual equivalent of a lullaby. And lest we worry of cultural appropriation in the use of this African folktale (Welden is white), consider that her protagonist is forthrightly an outsider to Africa, which she acknowledges knowing only at a distance. She is working through such universal questions about fear, death, and strength, that in her invocation of the Anansi storyshe feels like a woman grateful to learn a new touchstone for an archetypal tale.

 

Welden’s production weaves us close into myriad threads and strengths, a tale of many webs. The result of Legbalamany theatrical parts is a show that’s intimate and earnest, whimsical and acute, with a holistic sense of the scope and ingredients of storymaking.


Legbala is a River | Written and performed by Bess Welden; directed by Dan Burson | Through June 17 | Wed-Sat 7:30 pm | Mayo Street Arts, 10 Mayo St., Portland | $16 adv, $22 door | http://www.besswelden.com/legbala-is-a-river

Read more Megan Grumbling at www.megangrumbling.com.

  • Published in Theater

A Phoenix Guide to PortFringe — 8 Days of Raw, Risky Performances from Around the Country

PortFringe

The Yellow Wallpaper by Bare Portland, Photo by JJ Peeler/James Patefield

That's right, PortFringe is back for its sixth year!

From June 17-24, nearly 50 new, weird, and edgy original shows by artists from around the country will be performed in tight, intimate venues throughout Portland's arts district. Since wading through these acts can be a bit daunting, we created this handy guide to this year's festival. In the mood for something dark and apocalyptic? Some high-minded puppetry, perhaps? How about "vaginal consciousness"? We've got you covered.

 

See shows at Geno’s Rock Club, the Portland Stage Studio and Storefront theaters, the Mechanics' Hall Ballroom, Bright Star World Dance, and Empire. Buy your rush tickets in advance at all Coffee By Design locations or in Freeport, at the L.L.Bean Flagship Store — or during the festival, at venue box offices. Visit www.portfringe.com for more of the skinny.

 

And now, for the shows:

 Kara Sevda, Now What Theatre

"Kara Sevda", Now What Theatre

DYSTOPIAS & OTHER EMERGENCIES

 

For some unfathomable reason, this year’s PF includes a lot of bad news, speculative and otherwise . Chimera Theatre Collective takes us under a dystopian NYC in Beneath the Steam Grates; while the world of Burning Man: Who Sold the World, by David Ortolano (Boulder, CO) is “pre-apocalypse” but already “post-truth( and it’s a musical).

 

The title characters of Easter and Annie by Mod Twenty Productions, deal with the November 2016 dystopia; while Kara Sevda looks ahead to love in nuclear winter , by Now What Theatre (NYC and Glasgow ).

 

Watch a national emergency of 1987 from the point of view of a radio DJ, in Finyette Productions Please Stand By; and we go back to an older catastrophe on the eve of WWII, in The Antigone in Warsaw, by Purple Crayon .

Finally, Giant Nerd Productions (Seattle) takes on climate change in Tidal Surge, telling “ futuristic ecological disaster tales from three women outside the law.

Michael Burgos in The Eulogy Photo by Jason Riedmiller

Michael Burgos in "The Eulogy" Photo by Jason Riedmiller

SATIRE, COMEDY & IMPROV

Current affairs is the focus this time for Mad Horse Theatre Company , which is back with more adult digressions on rock 'n' roll and comic rage with How Dare You, Sir: A Gentleman's Panel of Rock – The F**k the Man Tour ; while Amanda Huotari (Buckfield ) of the Celebration Barn Theater clowns her way through a critique of privilege, in Pretty Face Does A World of Good .

Jim & Melissa present John Waters-infused sketch comedy in Freaky Nasty Trash (Chicago) ; Jason LeSaldo & Khalil LeSaldo deliver a comedic brother-act with Deep as Hell; and in The Eulogy , Michael Burgos (Falls Church, VA) sends up ineptitude at a funeral.

Religion, addiction, and social media are the focus of satirist Dandy Darkly (Brooklyn, NY) in Dandy Darkly’s Myth Mouth! ; and little girls compete for the title of “Ultimate Supreme Miss Chitlin Bombshell 2017 ” in Andrea Carr’s Ultimate Supreme.

 

In a twist on improv, the audience uploads the images, and Two Red Hens Productions (Old Orchard Beach, ME) make s up an artsy-bougie talk about them, in 20×20: An Improvised PechaKucha. T he local six-person improv team the Turkey Club is back ; so are the Jetpack Superheroes (Berkley, MA) and Self IMPROVment with a show whose title presumably says it all: Date Night: A Kung Fu Improv and Musical Comedy Opera.

 I Was A Sixth Grade Bigfoot, Cyndi Freeman Photo By Ben Trivett

"I Was A Sixth Grade Bigfoot", Cyndi Freeman, Photo By Ben Trivett

TRUE STORIES AND DOCUMENTARY

 

Bullying and a cryptozoological fascination are the pulse of I Was A Sixth Grade Bigfoot, by storyteller Cyndi Freeman (Brooklyn, NY); while Brad Lawrence (also of Brooklyn) recounts how Reagan-era pop culture and cable TV helped him overcome terror about sex and the suicide of a sibling, in The Gospel of Sherilyn Fenn.

 

Kari Wagner-Peck (as directed by Bess Welden) reads in choose-your-own-adventure fashion from her memoir Not Always Happy, about raising a child with Down Syndrome; and in A Line in the Sand , the Chrysalis Theatre Company (NYC) takes on school shootings, using documentary perspectives of survivors.

 There Ain’t No More: Death of a Folksinger, Willi Carlisle Productions

"There Ain’t No More: Death of a Folksinger", Willi Carlisle Productions

PUPPETRY , MOVEMENT & MUSIC

 

In Sifters, Erica Murphy , with Lei-Lei Bavoil (NYC) and Hannah Daly, use puppetry and movement to explore children lost in space; while Spark Artist Collective infuses storytelling with hula hoops and poi, in Flowcase; and Tandem Theatre Collective conjures mud, alligators, and blood with music, movement, and puppetry, in Kill That Man, Come Back Alone.

 

There Ain’t No More: Death of a Folksinger is a one-man operetta à la American folk and vaudeville, by Willi Carlisle Productions (Fayetteville, AR); and Brian Calhoon (Boston) apparently performs his Marimba Cabaret in wicked high heels.

 

Radical Presence is an interactive and immersive work “focusing on physical interaction between the audience and the performer,” by Portland performance artist Jess Lauren Lipton's Pop Killed Culture Productions ; while Vivid Motion presents a dance work about relationships in Lovers Anonymous.

 Terror on the High Seas, The Adventures of Les Kurkendaal

"Terror on the High Seas", The Adventures of Les Kurkendaal

TALES OF SELF AND OTHER S

 

We all know how much Sartre liked other people. In Hell Is, by Pie Man Theatre Company (South Portland) , he dies and winds up in a room with Camus and their lover Simone de Beauvoir.  

 

Hell might be in-laws in the comedy Terror on the High Seas, produced by The Adventures of Les Kurkendaal (Los Angeles) , when a guy has the great idea to go on a cruise with his boyfriend and his boyfriend’s parents.

 

Eric Darrow Worthley chronicles a couple’s attempts to either save or bail on their relationship, in Drifting & Torn Apart ; an d in Ours, the beautifully lyrical playwright Molly Hunt explores how to find home within . And Meredythe Dehne Lindsey (South Portland) takes on depression, abuse, self-harm, and how to find “ truth, validity, and love outside of the box” of social norms, in You Are Not Alone.

 One-Man Apocalypse Now, Chris Davis

"One-Man Apocalypse Now", Chris Davis

RETELLINGS

 

Marvelously poetic playwright Carmen-maria Mandley (Nashville, KY) stages a prequel to last summer’s adaptation of the myth of Daphnis and Chloe called Little Boy, Love Goat, produced by S tage Rage Productions.

 

In a compelling double feature, Bare Portland stages an adaptation of The Yellow Wallpaper, about a depressed woman confined to a room; while the feminist art collective New Fruit harmonizes with a piece titled from the rib vault in the room that has become mary .

 

Chris Davis (Philadelphia, PA) performs a dark-comedic One-Man Apocalypse Now; the venerably crass MTWTFSS Theatre Company imagines Charlie Brown in adolescence, in Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead; and Laura Packer (Kansas City, MO) tells probably-sexy Fairy Tales for Grown-Ups .

 

And Marianne Pillsbury magically re-makes makes a slew of famous female roles, in Strong Female Character: Teen Edition .

 That Was Unexpected, River Queen Productions

"That Was Unexpected", River Queen Productions

THE WOOWOO AND WEIRD: FANTASY, MYSTERY & SCI-FI

 

Gravity got you down? Check out a “magical '70s superstar ” and his joyous science in The Magical World of Doug Henning, by The Humanist Anti-gravity Research Department.

 

Two st rong ladies contend with mysteries and heartbreak in That Was Unexpected , by River Queen Productions; while The Glowing Boot, by Paul Bedard (Brooklyn, NY), explores a cryptic correspondence and a hermit .

Bonfire Films adapts Joe R. Lansdale’s sci-fi story Bar Talk for the stage; and in The Paranormal Pair, a two-hander by Box of Clowns (Portland, OR), we’re told t hat “1 in 10 Americans will become a ghost or apparition.”

 Kelly Nesbitt in POONSTRUCK

Kelly Nesbitt in "POONSTRUCK"

AND FINALLY: STRANGE AND WONDROUS KNOWLEDGE

 

T acking toward wisdom and consciousness, Kellie Ryan & Deb Grant seek knowledge from the gods in the dark comedy Divination in 3 Parts ; and who knows how Mark Toland (Chicago, IL) knows what you did last night in Mark Toland – Mind Reader.

 

And last but not least, the incomparable performance artist Kelly Nesbitt (Portland, OR) is back in the right Portland as her priceless Dr. Tallulah – the Vaginal Consciousness (VAGCON) Pioneer in POONSTRUCK . Hellagood for what ails us.

 

Fear, Cruelty, Friendship — Smoke and Bubbles debut 'Oriana's Eyes'

By any account, the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci had an intense and incredibly ballsy life: she distributed grenades with the Italian Resistance as a child, was embedded all over the world as a war correspondent, and, during an interview with Muammar Gaddafi, defiantly removed her headscarf. But at the end, she was bitter, alone, wracked with fear and Islamophobia, and losing her sight to cancer. As her personal assistant in New York until shortly before her death in 2006, Sandro Sechi experienced both her brilliant charisma and her cruelty. His 2006 memoirOriana’s Eyes, is now adapted for the stage asvivid collaborative play, written and directed by Sechi and Jennifer Slack-Eaton, and onstage at the St. Lawrence, starring the irrepressible Jackie Oliveri as Oriana and Seth Rigoletti as Sandro.

Oriana’s assistants tend to not last very long. “You are not as retarded as I thought you would be,” is her first appraisal of Sandro, whose eyes widen and who clutches his hands whenever her equilibrium seems precarious. Between Oriana’s temper, her cancer, and her sleazy publisher Antonio (Michael Tooher), who wants a look at her elusive novel, the sweetly solicitous Sandro has his hands full. Paced by between-scenes Italian jazz numbers (sung by the chanteuse Viva), Oriana’s Eyes tells of Orianas fraught friendship with Sandro and her descent into blindness and pathos.

Like Oriana herself, her apartment is a melange of elegance and hardboiled, writerly toughness: it holds a pink satin sofa and a manual typewriter; silky pewter bedclothes and stacks of folders on the floor. Oriana is rarely without a cigarette or a flute of Cristal, and her charming, vivacious wit veers without warning into ire, judgment, or outright meanness. Gaddafi was “a fucking idiot,” she laughs, delighting Sandro with the headscarf story, then talked of the “Pandora’s box” that was September 11, telling Sandro “to keep all Arabs off my property.”

As Sandro, Rigoletti has a softness, a gentle nervousness, and easy affection. He tiptoes toward or shrinks from her deferentially, nods with a big, reassuring smile. You can see in his eyes the cost of holding, without comment, Oriana’s more bigoted judgments—her hatred of her Indian doctor; her mockery of gay men, who, she smirks, look like “teenage beauty queens.” This last weighs particularly heavily on Sandro, we see, as we mark his slightly effeminate gestures and the careful vagueness with which he describes his girlfriend” back in Italy. Yet Oriana can also be so generous and convivial that Sandro loves her. Rigoletti makes Sandro’s cognitive dissonance palpable in his eyes and hands, the slump or openness of his upper body, the precise tenor of his smile—wary, saddened, or loving.

And I can’t imagine anyone else in town playing Oriana. In her perfect skirt suits, pearls, and minkOliveri’s Oriana is the picture of smart, coiffed imperiousness. She modulates deftly between conspiratorial affection and enraged jealousy; between self-sufficiency and horrible, grasping need. Oliveri’s empathetic performance lets us understand how Oriana at once manipulates Sandro’s gentleness, despises it, and envies it. Even in her most brutal moments—insisting that Sandro choose her over his own dying mother—Oliveri lets us know her narcissism, her helpless cruelty, for the sad sickness it is.

And when she brings the valence down low, as she does beautifully, Oliveri lets us feel the profundity of Oriana’s terror. How are we to understand a life of such strength and such smallness, such brilliance and such base bias and cruelty? Oriana’s Eyes helps us consider the question, and honor the woman, with intelligence and compassion.


Oriana’s EyesWritten and directed by Sandro Sechi and Jennifer Slack-Eaton; Produced by Smoke and Bubbles Productions | Through June 11 | $25 (proceeds benefit Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project) | Thu-Sat 7:30 pm; Sun 2 pm | St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St., Portland | www.orianaseyes.com

Megan Grumbling can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

  • Published in Theater

Speak the Language — Ziggurat's Electric 'Ninshaba'

In the 1920s, a Syrian farmer discovered some very old bones, which turned out to be from the graves of the lost city of Ugarit, circa 1400 BCArchaeologists also found Ugaritic texts, including one story, written on 10 clay tablets, that they think dates to 8000 BC Turkey. It tells of a young woman named Ninshaba who dreams that her long-lost mother is a goddess on a mountain, and who sets out to find her. Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble re-tells the Ugaritic re-telling in the visually arresting, stunningly performed Ninshaba, on stage at the Portland Ballet Studio Theater under the direction of Ziggurat co-founders Stephen Legawiec and Dana Wieluns Legawiecwho first created and staged the show 20 years ago.

We hear the historical background up front, in chummy everyman narration by Stephen Legawiec, and the story’s entire plot-linewhich unfolds over 10 episodes, is previewed—several times—by a seven-member ensemble, dressed in white robes and headdresses, faces painted white and lips red. In this way, Ziggurat allows to pretend that we, too, have long heard the story repeated, and it prepares us for what is most idiosyncratic and revelatory about the show: Ninshaba is performed almost entirely in an invented language. 

As early as the first tablet, as Ninshaba (Erica Murphy) shakes in feverthen tells her nurse Batzabbay (Kathleen Nation) of her visions, the experience of watching immediately feels differentGesture, costume, and sound become momentous and charged, become the crucial, archetypal currencies of the story, much like Stacey Koloski’s simple set of white-gray pillars, textured like fossils, feels both ancient and timeless. Loosened in time, freed from verbal language, we watch with a different part of the brain, and it is exhilarating.

Murphy’s tall, elegant Ninshaba is an earnest, innocently imperious ingénue, in contrast with the slapstick-y vagabond Quaqsaya (Dana Wieluns Legawiec), a kaleidoscopic fool who guideNinshaba to the mountain, ribbing and joking on the wayLegawiec’s timing, whether guilting Ninshaba out of flatbread or chasing away a paunchy paramour (Megan Tripaldi), is impeccableAnd Murphy is sinuouspreternaturally graceful, and sometimes—in a belly dance or a flailing ritual ecstasy—electric. Without words, everyone’s least gesture resonates. When a rat in a nun’s habit (Molana Oei) shows up, all it has to do is look sideways at Ninshaba—once, twice—and the sense of threat is primal.

That nun, its rat-face mask tapering out eerily from its habit, is one in a gorgeous and inventive array of costumes and masks (by Anne Collins and Beckie Kravetz). The goddess Ashera (Emily Grotz) wears iridescent green-gold; plague victims hang red strips of gauze over noses and mouths; a black-gauzed woman in mourning (Hollie Pryor) stoops under the weight of white-wrapped corpseAs we watch, we hear drums, chimes, and—most importantly—the powerfully tonal human voiceIn their invented language, the voices convey fear, exasperation, and grief; whisper little cacophonies of gossip; and sing Middle Eastern harmonies, carrying the emotions from tablet to tablet.

Each tablet’s scene is short, sweet, and perfectly framed, like poems, or—and I mean this in the best way—like television episodes good enough to binge-watch. It’s a reference I don’t make frivolously, because part of what’s remarkable about Ninshabais how wisely it understands what’s most timeless in how we need and craft our stories. We may currently preserve them in ones and zeros instead of clay and cuneiform, but their essential shapes—dream, joke, mountain—remain our own.

NinshabaCreated and produced by the Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble; directed by Stephen Legawiec and Dana Wieluns Legawiec; produced at the Portland Ballet Studio Theater | Through May 28 | Fri-Sun 7:30 pm | $20, $15 seniors/students, $5 youth 8-12 |www.ziggurattheatre.org


Megan Grumbling can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

  • Published in Theater

Every Moment Counts — The Dazzling 'Constellations' at SPACE Gallery

The stage of Constellations is aintimate six-sided spacebeneath a geometric frame of shimmering panes — the stage is like one small cell in a cosmic honeycomb. What transpires here is all possible worlds of connection between Marianne (Phoebe Parker), a physicist studying quantum cosmology, and Roland (Matt Delamater), a beekeeper.

Nick Payne’s two-hander is on stage now in a transporting show at SPACE Gallery, directed by Sean Mewshaw (the director behind legendary SPACE shows Killer Joe and Gruesome Playground Injuries) and with a dazzling immersive installation by John Sundling. It is far too good to miss.

With its prismatic structure, its cables strung at angles through the gallery, and a few other space-age surprises, Sundling’s installation conjures at once a cell, a universe, and a cathedral, all before the play even begins. The show opens with a mesmerizing little musical preludeas small spots of light grow, float, and melt into each other (gorgeous lighting design by Heather Crocker, sound by Ian Hundt, and projections by Amelia Persans). And then: “Do you know why it’s impossible to lick the tips of your elbow?” Marianne asks a surprised Roland at a barbeque. This first moment of their communion turns out to be miraculously plural: In Constellations, we watch countless variationon this and other scenes of their relationship, given Marianne’s belief that we might be “part of a multiverse” — that all our possible choices might coexist in parallel dimensions.

It certainly is a ravishing premise, and Delamater and Parker execute its fragmented repetitions and fluctuations with agility and abundant tenderness. As they deliver precariously similar lines multiple times, they vary their characters’ tone, confidence, receptivity, innuendo, rage, and/or intoxication. It doesn’t get old. Key to their success is an intimate, less-is-more naturalness, which keeps the show from becoming a series of stylized burlesques. Instead, their variations become a fascinating vehicle of suspenseas we watch the myriad possibilities of whether and how, for example, Marianne asks Roland to leave or to stay.

Soon we are also seeing fragments from farther along their trajectory; the narrative is propelled toward both the “endingand how many ways a given moment can go. Parker’s Marianne takes Roland home now with drunken, laughing sensuality, other times with a self-protective restraint that — depending on Roland — sometimes turns defensive, sometimes softens. Roland’s reaction to an infidelity is stricken, then lit with sarcastic rage, then awash in forgiveness. Both actors are superb, and show a special virtuosity for shifting from a scene of aching closeness, skin against skin in almost cellular intimacy, to dancing at arm’s length and the distance of strangers.

Payne’s writing is funny, colloquial, and particular (Marianne talks of cosmic microphase; a rival is mocked now for his bowl cut, now for his dandruff). It also holds some breathtaking surprises. A suddenly near-silent scene is delivered entirely in sign language.

A struggling Marianne (haunting, in Parker’s hands) lands on rivetingly wrong words: “Before, people had face,” she says haltingly, trying to explain how we once dealt with crisis. “Before things became skin.”

Through Parker and Delamater’s remarkably empathetic performances, any one version of the couple comes to feel like the sum of its multiplicity. And its exquisite final moments, Constellations lets Marianne and Roland waltz in the vastness of their possibilities, much like Tom Stoppard’s Thomasina and Septimusin another play about physics and love, waltz in the face of entropy. As Marianne and Roland dance, their infinite choices — and the limits of knowing only one at a time — scintillate in the air. We might feel our own myriad selves hovering somewhere close.

Constellations | By Nick Payne; directed by Sean Mewshaw | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | Through May 21 | $15 adv, $18 day of | www.space538.org


Megan Grumbling can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

  • Published in Theater
Subscribe to this RSS feed