Back in the acts

A year in Maine theater
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  December 20, 2006

061222_inside_theater
PENETRATING: Equus at USM.

When it comes to dramatics, there’s plenty to toast at this year’s end. Artistic directors of the established houses chose some excellent scripts — some classics, some brand-new — and 2006 also saw fine contributions from outside the mainstream, including experimental, civically-minded, and traveling shows. Here follows a compilation of some of the year’s theatrics that I recall with particular relish:

Two of this year’s most elegant, witty, and smartly produced plays both happen to have been put up by the THEATER PROJECT, and both were classic comedies: Coward’s Blithe Spirit and Shaw’s Arms and the Man. In the former, Elizabeth Chambers was ravishing as a petulant ghoul, and both plays featured Mark Honan in satisfyingly jocular roles.

Sucker that I am for the modern classics, I swooned for the MAD HORSE production of Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. David Currier and the venerable Peter Brown made it a rightfully spooky and hilarious comic romp through Hamletland, doing great justice to the great playwright’s verbal virtuosity.

A newer existential buddy play, Michael Kimball’s Best Enemies, got its world premiere this fall at THE PLAYERS’ RING, starring Michael Crockett and Christopher Savage. Stranded on a desert island with no set and only two props, the two men bicker, commune, and establish a civil code, all the while committing such ingenious trespasses as “crimes against geography.” 
 
If that seems minimalist, recall PORTLAND STAGE COMPANY’S astonishing one-man, 30-plus-character show, I Am My Own Wife. In it, one magnificent actor — Tom Ford — portrayed not only Charlotte, a German transvestite antiques collector who managed to run an underground bar through the years of Nazi rule, but also scores of others — relatives, SS agents, and other gay bon-vivants, not to mention the author himself (Doug Wright), who met Charlotte in the ’90s. The story of the cross-dresser’s very singular life was a surprisingly exquisite and haunting exploration of how to document memory.

Another theatrical venture into memory and identity concerned itself less with narrative than lyricism, and was billed as Living History. Experimental and collaborative, Jennie Hahn’s art installation in the NEAL STREET GARAGE was inhabited this fall by three actors and their self-created dramatizations of just how remembrance behaves.

The Neal Street Garage has hosted a number of other events beyond the theatrical mainstream. This spring, the multi-use arts space behind the Congress Street Gulf station welcomed Escape Velocity, a gala gallery show and original performance of raw skits and music created by the YOUTH OF THE PREBLE STREET YOUTH CENTER, with help from ROIL.

Two other civically urgent efforts of 2006 deserve mention here. The first was a two-man traveling show meant to spur public discussion of the only thing as inevitable as death. Writer/performer David Greenham and performer Dennis Price took Taxing Maine on the road all over the state throughout the fall, on commission from the MAINE HUMANITIES COUNCIL, in advance of Mainers’ vote on TABOR. After the performance I attended in Biddeford, citizens of several walks of life could be seen engaging in civic discourse just as well as people in a Frank Capra film.

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