The new year in theater looks to be rich in stories of love, loss and home; artistic striving and crises of belief; environmental stewardship and beneficial recreational drugs. Here are some highlights of the theatrical offerings of the first half of 2023.
Portland Stage kicks off the new year with a brand-new show commissioned of Maine’s acclaimed writer and Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco and playwright Vanessa Garcia: “Sweet Goats and Blueberry Señoritas” (Jan. 25-Feb. 12 onstage; Feb. 8-26 online) tells of a Cuban American baker in Maine. The season continues with autobiographical insights into a great American playwright, in “August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned” (March 1-19); and then with another baker in conflict: in “The Cake” (April 5-23), Della has long planned on baking Jen’s wedding cake — but is thrown for a loop when she learns that Jen is marrying a woman.
Romantic and sororal love manifests in all manner of conflicts for the three sisters of the classic “Crimes of the Heart” (Jan. 11-29) which opens the year at Good Theater. Next up thereafter will be Stephen Underwood’s one-man multimedia paean to cannabis, “The High Road” (Feb. 1-19); followed by a look into the fascinating relationship between Maine painter Jamie Wyeth and ballet genius Rudolf Nureyev, in “Nureyev’s Eyes” (Feb. 22-March 12). Good Theater wraps up its season with the classic Kaufman and Hart comedy of love, eccentricities and unpaid taxes, “You Can’t Take It With You” (March 29-April 23).
Deviancy defines the desires of the Marquis de Sade in “Quills” (Feb. 2-26), an imagining of the writer’s last decade imprisoned in an insane asylum, which opens the year for Mad Horse Theatre Company. And after exploring the Marquis’s rebellion against his doctor’s treatments, Mad Horse will pivot to the ferocious striving of pre-teen dancers in “Dance Nation” (April 20-May 14).
Grief, death and transitions are at the center of a new multidisciplinary and interactive theater work by Bess Welden, “The Death Wings Project” (dates TBA in March and April) that will be co-produced by Dramatic Repertory Company, Meetinghouse Arts Stage in Freeport, and Brunswick’s The Theater Project. Also onstage this spring at The Theater Project is the comedy “Do You Feel Anger” (Feb. 9-19), about an “empathy coach” newly hired at a debt collection agency.
A comedy called “Is Edward Snowden Single?” (Jan. 13-29), a comedic two-hander “about pretty lies and ugly truths,” is one of the year’s first shows at Portsmouth’s Players’ Ring, which has a full line-up for the first half of the year. Another Ring highlight is “C33: The Queer Story of Oscar Wilde’s Undoing” (Feb. 10-26), about the great queer writer’s downfall to the depths of Reading Gaol.
A different kind of romantic dilemma — of the cross-cultural variety — presents itself to an immigrant cab driver and a waitress in “Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World” (March 3-12) at Lewiston’s Public Theater. Also on deck in Lewiston are “Jeeves and Wooster in ‘Perfect Nonsense’” (April 21-30), in which a man and his valet put on a play of their own foibles; and “POLKADOTS: The Cool Kids Musical” (May 19-21), a family show about “the challenge of being the first Polkadot in an all-Square school.”
Fans of nun-based comedies have two good options in Biddeford City Theater’s “Nunsense” (March 10-26) and Footlights Theatre’s “The Charitable Sisterhood of the Second Trinity Victory Church” (Jan. 26-Feb. 11). Footlights follows with a serious piece, the multimedia show “And Then They Came For Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank” (March 16-April 8), with interview footage of Holocaust survivors, then gets funny again with “How Rude! The Musical” (April 20-May 6).
Literary and theater classics, and derivations thereof, will also be onstage in the coming months: Portland Players stages an adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” (Jan. 27-Feb. 12), followed by “The Full Monty” (May 19-June 4). In Kittery, Threshold Theater will stage Lucas Hnath’s sequel to the Ibsen drama, “A Doll’s house Part 2” (March 17-April 2). And Lyric Music Theatre brings us the beloved thriller “Wait Until Dark” (Jan. 27-Feb. 12), followed by the musical murder mystery “Curtains” (March 24-April 8).
On the horizon for early summer, I’m thrilled to report that this June, Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble will be presenting another site-specific outdoor world premiere fantasy amid the spectacular sand dunes of Freeport’s Desert of Maine. “The Sand Princess,” produced with the Desert of Maine Center for Arts and Ecology, will “blend high drama and low comedy as a clever scoundrel threatens the future of an empire in the sand.”
Over at Mayo Street Arts, look for the venue’s characteristically eclectic lineup in 2023, including “The Grand Duchess of Casco Bay: Chartreuse Money” (Jan. 28-29) a one-woman drag show of storytelling, comedy, and lip-synching. And puppets are also always upcoming at MSA: “Modern Times Theater’s Baffo Box Show” (February 3-4) presents a show of puppets and “junk music sonatas” in which the sun, a demanding neighbor, and a changing world must be managed; and The Gottabees’ “Squirrel Stole My Underpants” (February 18) in which a girl chases after a small laundry-stealing mammal and finds herself in strange new worlds.
Finally, much more for the kids is on offer at the always-luminous Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine. Up first this year is “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” (Jan. 13-Feb. 5), in which Pigeon tries to learn what they are good at; followed by “Jack & Phil, Slayers of Giants INC” (Feb. 17-March 5), in which Jack and his best friend work to save his home and the world; and “Gruff!” (April 14-May 14), a musical about goats who have run out of food in their toxic home, and so journey to a place where every plant is beloved, and where the goats must learn cooperation and resource management. Good lessons for all of us in the new year.
Megan Grumbling is a writer, editor, and teacher who lives in Portland. Find her at megangrumbling.com.