Well, it was a close call, but now that we’ve crossed the Stygian flood of Christmas Carols and other holiday fiascos, we can get back to the business of theater that might occasionally surprise, scandalize, and even keep us breathing.
To start with, I’m delighted to report that two of Portland’s professional houses and one community theater will be taking on works by that wonder of wit and wordplay, Tom Stoppard. In the coming year, we’ll be lavished with the shipboard farce Rough Crossing from Portland Stage (January 24-February 19); The Real Inspector Hound from the Gaslight (TBA dates in March), and the quintessential literary comedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead from Mad Horse (April 13-May 7). Rough Crossing presents a theatrical crew all stuck together on a ship; when the composer’s financée is overheard getting it on with another actor, the playwrights have to think fast to keep things tidy. In Inspector Hound, two inattentive theater critics watch a whodunit; and R&G thrusts us into the realm of Hamlet through the bemused eyes of its interchangeable protagonist pawns.
The Children’s Theatre of Maine starts its new year with a classic — George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, a realistic rendering of the young girl’s unwavering drive to rid 15th-century France of the English (January 13-29). With CTM’s accomplished adult company and exacting direction of its kids, Saint Joan should be a highlight of the season.
Another classic master — a much older one — shows up at Players’ Ring in Portsmouth, as Theatre on the Rocks presents Machiavelli’s The Mandrake (January 20-February 5). An aging husband, a young wife, a dashing rake, and a slew of cronies with agendas turn the cogs of this cynical comedy.
Speaking of power, Acorn Productions’ Naked Shakespeare will bring us another evening of topical scene work at the SPACE, this time billed as Power Grabs (TBA, during the week of March 15). Avaricious bad guys (and gals) aid and abet, murder and betray! More sublimation of the drag of living under King George, and with the preternatural sounds of Denis Nye as accompaniment.
Also look for Acorn’s annual Maine Short Play Festival, in which you may see the scripts of your friends and neighbors who are secretly playwrights, performed by your favorite local actors (March 23-April 2, at the St. Lawrence). More original shorts can be found at USM’s festival of Student One Acts, all written by students and directed by Assunta Kent (February 16-19).
Then there are a couple modern masters being presented down in Portsmouth, at the Players’ Ring. Daniel Productions will mount an evening of plays billed as 2X2X2, which will consist of The Zoo Story, Edward Albee’s 1958 (and first!) play, and A Number, a 2002 work on cloning, by Caryl Churchill (March 2-12). Two scripts, two actors, and two playwrights: Albee is one of our most challenging modern scribes, and Churchill is widely hailed as one of the playwrights for the 21st century.
Do you ever wish the writers would leave things just a little more in the air and not exercise their haughty textual power so brazenly? Well, Good Theater is mounting a script that actually lets you, the audience, pick the ending. How’s that? The play is The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a musical by Rupert Holmes which presents London’s Theatre Royale presenting The Mystery of Edwin Drood (February 16-March 12 at the St. Lawrence). I will say no more.