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Morality plays

It’s hard to escape politics this fall
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  September 10, 2008

The next six weeks of American life will be marked by a theatrical onslaught of ambition, contention, and colorful character development, along with frenzied text messages, a hyperactive blogosphere, and rabid cable TV pundits. So will PORTLAND STAGE COMPANY’s production of Julius Caesar (September 23-October 19). For their season premiere, PSC reinterprets Shakespeare’s tragedy in light of modern politics.

On the other side of the American politics coin, ethos-wise, comes the lively musical 1776, at BIDDEFORD CITY THEATER (October 10-19). John Adams and the other Founders duke out the conditions of our nation’s seminal document in a playfully irreverent show, with plenty of impromptu song and dance in Independence Hall.

National politics is rife with rumor and machinations, but these elements can also wreak havoc in intimate, local spheres. Take Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, which opens the season for MAD HORSE (October 9-October 26 and November 6-November 16): Karen and Martha run a successful school for girls until one malicious student starts whispering about the nature of the women’s relationship.

Whether that student is actually “evil” in, say, Rick Warren’s sense of the word, may be up for grabs. Not so with the troublemakers in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (the Young Company of the THEATER PROJECT, October 24-November 2), in which classic children’s fantasy the witch is definitely beyond moral nuance.

On the other hand, Harold Hill, the loveable title con-man of The Music Man (at PORTLAND PLAYERS, September 12-28), gets both redemption and the lovely prim librarian of the town he had initially hoped to scam out of their savings on loud brass instruments and shakos.

That’s classic down-home America, right there, and if you like that, I got another one for you: the humor, life and times of American performer Will Rogers. LYRIC MUSIC THEATER presents a musical tribute to the wit and wisdom of the man who said, “I never met a man I didn’t like” (September 19-October 12).

The quirks of performers often make a, well, theatrical subject for a show. In Lend Me a Tenor (VACATIONLAND THEATER CO., September 5-21), neurotic and easily mistaken opera singers double-entendre their ways through a bevy of entrances and exits. Opera is sent up in considerably sillier splendor on the boards of the THEATER AT MONMOUTH, in The Mikado (September 25-October 5).

On the screen side of actors’ susceptibility to farce, the GOOD THEATER offers Stones in his Pockets, in which two actors play 20 characters filming a blockbuster movie in a wee Irish village (October 30-November 23). Past encounters with the company suggest a high level of virtuosity at play.

But farce moves among all of us, particularly those of us who have a family. And although the American Soccer Mom seems to have lately been eclipsed by another, shall we say, more canine archetype of athletics matriarch, she’s still here: Secrets of a Soccer Mom was an uplifting hit off-Broadway and gets its Maine premiere at the PUBLIC THEATER (October 24-November 9).

Of all family dynamics, the sibling ones can often be the most fraught, as seen in such classics as True West and Orphans. The acclaimed Martin McDonagh explores the rivalries and ugly secrets of two Irish brothers in Lonesome West (AMERICAN IRISH REPERTORY ENSEMBLE, October 30-November 16).

In local playwright Michael Kimball’s Hideaway (PLAYERS’ RING, through September 21), the boy has no brother, but is still disturbed enough for his folks to haul him off to isolation in northern Maine. When a hard-partying witness-protected couple moves in, there’s big trouble.

The couple in Sam Shepard’s harrowing Fool for Love is not having a party. They’re battling out some heavy shit in a Mojave Desert motel. The UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MAINE produces this fine modern drama in Gorham (October 3-12).

When dysfunctional relationships turn physically violent, mediating the abuse can prove difficult. CATHY PLOURDE’s new social education theater work, A Major Medical Breakthrough (USM Portland, September 15-16), focuses on the role of the health care professions in identifying and preventing abuse.

Finally, social awareness will also be addressed this Saturday in Mother Culture, at the CELEBRATION BARN, when the character of Ishmael, a half-ton silverback gorilla, shares wisdom about ecology, freedom, and the human condition. Now if only someone would book him as moderator for the debates.

Megan Grumbling can be reached at

  Topics: Theater , fall2008 , Cathy Plourde , Michael Kimball ,  More more >
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