Thomas Campbell, left, and Hannah Daly in "Boxes" at Good Theatre. (Kevin Fahrman photo)
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Hannah Daly in Good Theater’s production of “Boxes.” (Kevin Fahrman photo)

Hot tips

Good Theater has beer and wine and the best selection of candy you’ve forgotten about, plus other snacks. It also allows you to bring it all back to your seat. Go to the Second Stage Saturday matinee and you can get a mimosa. 

Mad Horse Theatre Company in South Portland has its own parking lot. They also have warm chocolate chip cookies at the snack bar and you can take all your snacks to your seat. Footlights Theatre in Falmouth also has off-street parking.

Portland Stage Company has beer and wine, and tasty treats from Dean’s Sweets and Katie Made Bakery at the snack bar, but you can’t take them to your seat. Go early and enjoy them while reading the program, which is entertaining on its own.

Dramatic Repertory Company shares the snack bar with Portland Stage, but it is only open when Portland Stage also has a show. It’s a family affair; Vanessa and Keith’s daughter might show you to your seat or take your ticket.

Lyric Music Theater and Portland Players, both in South Portland, have reusable plastic wine cups for purchase. They’ve got lids so you can take your wine into the theater. You might want it if you’re nervous about your husband/child/neighbor up on the stage.

Your seat is waiting …

Dramatic Repertory Company,; in the Portland Stage studio, 25A Forest Ave., Portland; 1-800-838-3006.

Footlights Theatre,; 190 US Route 1, Falmouth; 747-5434.

Good Theater,; 76 Congress St., Portland; 835-0895.

Lyric Music Theater,; 176 Sawyer St., South Portland; 799-1421.

Mad Horse Theatre Company,; 24 Mosher St., South Portland; 747-4148. 

Portland Players,; 420 Cottage Road, South Portland; 799-7337.

Portland Stage,; 25A Forest Ave., Portland; 774-0465.

Snowlion Repertory Company,; in the Portland Ballet studio, 517 Forest Ave., 518-9305.

— Lori Eschholz                                                                                   

Portland’s theater season is in full swing, with the political climate, race and privilege, gentrification, women’s issues, and other challenges of modern life being tackled on the stage.

But don’t despair, there are still laughs to be found in some of the darkest plays, and area playhouses still want you to have a good time. Most are hoping to start a dialogue, help you to connect with others, and send you home with a fresh perspective – or at least something to talk about.

If it all still feels like too much, the community playhouses – Lyric Music Theater and Portland Players – have feel-good musicals to help you escape.

Dramatic Repertory Company

Dramatic Repertory Company is doing two plays this season, both of which are rooted in current issues. Artistic Director Keith Beyland’s roots are in the New York theater scene. He said he tries to bring cutting-edge and new plays to Portland.

The Maine premiere of “Lungs” is DRC’s current production, marking Beyland’s second return to directing since a stroke in 2015 left him with aphasia. He said his wife Vanessa helped him to communicate.

“Lungs” is a two-person show that grapples with the larger consequences of whether it is right to have a child in today’s world. The play is staged with no sets or costumes. Beyland said it has been on his radar for a while, but it took time for the theater to obtain production rights.

“It’s about how can we continue to live the way we’re living,” Vanessa Beyland said. “But there’s a lot of humor in ‘Lungs.’”

The Beylands are excited to bring a world premiere to Portland with the season’s second play, “The Mother.” It is only the second world premiere for DRC and focuses on the mother of a high school child who has committed a mass shooting.

“’The Mother’ makes you think about all the causes of the shooting,” Vanessa. “We hope audiences will leave with fresh perspectives.” She added that neither play takes a stand on an issue or tells you how to feel, but leaves a lot of room for discussion.

Good Theater

“When I put these things together I didn’t think about how political this was,” Brian Allen, executive and artistic director of Good Theater, said. “I kind of stood back and said, ‘Oh my God, Brian, you’re having a very political season.”

Even so, he said, many of the shows are funny.

Good Theater started its season with the Maine premiere of “Admissions,” a play about race, privilege, and the college admissions process. It is now running two shows: “Boxes,” a psychological thriller about abuses of power and the manipulation of people, and the entirely different “Who’s Holiday,” a bawdy take on the Dr. Seuss classic that is only open to patrons 17 and older.

“It’s a little trashy, but really fun and ultimately has a lot of heart to it,” Allen said.

“Who’s Holiday” is part of the company’s Second Stage series, where the theater takes more risks. Others in the series include “Murderers,” a wacky play about three people who have committed murders, and “Men: Things that Go Bump in the Night,” a musical cabaret.

Allen said he likes to open the season “with a bang” — something to get people talking or a recent New York hit. He then transitions to upbeat and funny plays for the winter because “winters are long.” Good Theater finishes every year with a musical to end on an upbeat note.

This year’s musical is “Desperate Measures,” a comedy that tells the tale of a corrupt politician abusing his power. It’s a Maine premiere, and Good Theater is one of the first theaters to get the rights to it off Broadway.

Mad Horse Theatre Company

Mad Horse Theatre Company wants to take you beneath the veneer this season to examine what happens when a person has something to conceal.

At Mad Horse, the ensemble can suggest plays for inclusion in the next season. Members then vote on which to produce, considering the structure and type of plays and the themes. Once they’ve been chosen, Artistic Director Mark Rubin looks for the common underlying themes. This year the theme emerged more from the ensemble than from him, he said.

“When one conceals, one avoids the risk of being vulnerable. Vulnerability is the key to connections. It is the courage to be open to another human being,” Rubin says in this season’s program. “The drive to connect is in all of us whether we acknowledge it or not.”

Mad Horse opened its season with “Radiant Vermin,” a play Rubin describes as a fairy tale that delves into poverty, greed, and gentrification. Rubin said he tries to open the season with a play that will draw people in and stimulate interest in the rest of the season.

“’Radiant Vermin’ is a play that reflects what Mad Horse tries to do,” he said. “ We try to do plays that other theaters wouldn’t necessarily tackle.”

“Mary Jane,” which runs until Nov. 24, addresses the despair of a woman who cares for her chronically ill son while assisted by a community of women.

Mad Horse will be foregoing its usual holiday fundraiser in favor of a mini PortFringe festival in December. Rubin said it will stage six to eight performances from last June’s festival in an effort to give the plays and the festival more exposure.

Portland Stage

At Portland Stage, the season is focused on “the transformative change that can happen when we take the time to listen to another person’s point of view rather than doggedly following our own,” Executive and Artistic Director Anita Stewart said. “Theater has always been a way of walking in another’s shoes and seeing things from another perspective.”

Stewart said people aren’t hearing different perspectives. In each of the plays at Portland Stage this season there are characters who have very rigid ways of looking at the world, she said, and the characters collectively work together and find positive change.

Many people are involved in selecting the plays for the season, including the theater’s artistic committee, friends and family, subscribers, artists, and agents.

“Early on we’re looking at plays and saying, ‘That’s relevant to today. That feels like something we should be doing,’” Stewart said. After that they find themes and sometimes switch plays to create a more cohesive season.

Portland Stage has completed two shows of its mainstage season and is gearing up for its holiday offering, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a live radio play that opens the day after Thanksgiving.

In January, the theater will be back to its regular season with “Almost, Maine,” a play by Presque Isle native John Cariani that had its world premiere at Portland Stage in 2004 and went on to global success. Stewart described the play as “very much a love story to our state,” and said it made sense to bring it back in 2020 to kick off the state’s bicentennial year. Cariani will be featured in the cast.

“Hiring John, a Broadway star who got his start as a playwright on our stage, is fabulous,” she said. There will also be readings of Cariani’s work.

Snowlion Repertory Company

Snowlion Repertory Company opened its season with “Omniphobia,” which was written by Artistic Director Al D’Andrea.

“In the current political situation and environment there is a tremendous amount of fearmongering … and people reacting out of fear,” Producing Director Margit Ahlin said. “It was time to do this piece.”

Snowlion does new, world-premiere plays chosen based on what’s going on in society, Ahlin said.

“They’re all fresh and happening in the headlines now,” she said. “We want people to examine their lives and examine the world and learn who they are.”

The season will continue April 24 with “The Secret Princess,” a musical comedy based on a Mark Twain short story set in medieval times that examines gender roles as it tells the tale of a woman brought up as a man.

Ahlin describes the play as a romp with a lot of heart, but also timely because it re-examines gender and transgender roles. Twain’s story had no ending, but Snowlion has structured the play to let each night’s audience choose how it should conclude.

Lyric Music Theater, Portland Players

Should you need escapism, look to community playhouses Lyric Music Theater and Portland Players.

Lyric will soon start its holiday run of “Elf,” followed by Cariani’s “Love/Sick,” and “Fun Home” before finishing the season with “Grumpy Old Men.”

Portland Players will produce “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” for the holiday season before it has you swooning over “Pride and Prejudice” this winter. The hardest question you’ll need to consider is, who will play Mr. Darcy?

Freelance writer Lori Eschholz lives in South Portland.

Sally Wood in “Boxes” at Good Theater. (Kevin Fahrman photo)

Cheap seats

Everyone loves a bargain, right? Here’s how to save a few dollars on your theater-going experience:

Dramatic Repertory Company’s Future Patrons Club provides free tickets to anyone under 25 years old; tickets are also $10 for the second Wednesday performance of any show.

Thursdays at Footlights Theatre in Falmouth are pay-what-you-can nights, and there are always discounts for students and seniors.

Good Theater has $15 student tickets at all times, and unsold full-price tickets go to rush pricing two hours before the curtain rises — $10 for general admission and $5 for students.

Lyric Music Theater in South Portland has discounts for children, seniors, and groups.

Pay-what-you-can nights are the first two Thursdays and the first Sunday of a run at Mad Horse Theatre Company in South Portland; 25-and-younger/student tickets are always pay what you can.

Portland Players in South Portland has $6 tickets for children and students on Student Sunday — the first Sunday matinee of every show — plus discounts for children and seniors at all other times.

Portland Stage has limited pay-what-you-can tickets the first Tuesday and Thursday performances at 7:30 p.m. and the third Thursday performance at 2 p.m.; free membership in Rush 35 provides anyone 35 and younger with $15 same-day rush tickets to any mainstage performance, and a free ticket to a show by bringing another person who is under 35 to their first show; students of any age get $15 off their tickets reserved in advance or $15 tickets when purchased the night of the show, and there are discounts for seniors, military, and groups.

Actors always get discount tickets at Snowlion Repertory Company.

— Lori Eschholz

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