TALK OF THE TOWN Good Theater’s August: Osage County.
In my local orbits among both actors and theater-goers, one play of 2010 continues to be regularly hailed in conversation: GOOD THEATER's momentous production of August: Osage County, a profane and exceptionally funny foray into Middle American generational pathos. Tracy Letts's superbly harrowing script deserves all the praise it's reaped from the Pulitzer committee and elsewhere; it has the depth and articulate anguish of the best of modern dramas, and in staging it, director Brian Allen wrought the Good Theater's most powerful show yet. Allen's large and formidable cast of the extended Weston family, led by the incomparable Lisa Stathoplos as the pill-addled matriarch Vi, had a rapport of exceptional cohesion and nuance, and as Vi's eldest daughter and chief antagonist, Kathleen Kimball was arresting and heartbreaking. As Westons variously eviscerated each other, their own myths, and the American promise of progress for over three hours of running time, the Good Theater's remarkable cast carried a dramatic triumph.
Also of note in 2010 was the opening of LUCID STAGE's new performance space, just off Forest Avenue. MAD HORSE THEATRE COMPANY left the Studio Theater at Portland Stage to become Lucid's resident theater, and opened its 25th season there with John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation. This intimate and versatile new black box of Lucid Stage, whose co-directors are Adam Gutgsell and Liz McMahon, is a boon to the performance community, hosting an array of events. Attractions this month alone included improv workshops, a collaborative Christmas show by AIRE theater and Castlemas, and a knitting night with live music; theatergoers who are fond of modern masters Albee and Shepard should keep an eye out for Mad Horse's stellar 2011 main stage line-up (more on this next week).
Another new theatrical venture of the last year was TESS VAN HORN's riotous production of Alfred Jarry's proto-Absurdist, bourgeoisie-busting comedy Ubu Roi, staged with raucous, collaborative DIY energy first at the Apohadion and then at SPACE Gallery. Ian Carlsen and the Phoenix's own Deirdre Fulton made careening, horrifying grotesques of the fat, lewd, stupid, greedy Père and Mère Ubu, and original puppets and intentionally flaccid cardboard swords were a sly wink to the ridiculous.
Finally, ACORN PRODUCTIONS, already a veritable hydra of theatrical endeavors, also began some new ones in 2010. One is the 24-HOUR PLAY FESTIVAL, which gave theater its go at the time time-constrained high-jinks already enjoyed by Portland's music and film scenes. At the foreordained time, an envelope was unsealed, and a line of dialogue, a location, and an object were announced. Next, five playwrights were paired with five directors, each team drew slips of paper to choose their casts, and the race to theatrical creation was on. Look for the speedy antics again this year. Another of Acorn's new features is its STUDIO SERIES, which focuses on locally written and infrequently performed plays. Thus far, the series has included Michael Kimball's The Secret of Comedy and Arnold Perl's exploration of Jewish culture, The World of Sholom Aleichem; it continues in the new year with Dance for Me, Salome, based on John Manderino's memoir Crying at Movies, about his years of watching films and their influences on his relationships. Finally, NAKED SHAKESPEARE launched its new contribution to yearly al fresco summer fare by the Bard. The Professional Ensemble's As You Like It and the Youth Ensemble's Romeo and Juliet played right on the banks of the Presumpscot River, bringing free theater to a wealth of urban-pastoral contexts — including, most entertainingly, Westbrook Prom Night.
Megan Grumbling can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.