As we look into the new year, let's start with the most primal theatrical basics: stories. A quintessential tale-teller will transport us across oceans and deserts, pursuing the big mysteries, in Ibsen's classic Peer Gynt. Portland Stage Company partners with Figures of Speech Theatre for its season opener, and will animate the charismatic Peer's yarns using puppets, actors, and shadow play (January 27-February 22).
Writers, as a particular breed of storyteller, have their own special occupational hazards. The protagonist of City of Angels, for example, gets a little lost in his own head as he adapts his novel for the stage. Characters move readily between fantasy and reality in this musical detective show, which goes up at Lyric Music Theater (February 20-March 8). The line between fiction and real life blurs in a different way in Collected Stories, the season premiere of the Public Theatre (January 23-February 1): As a writer and her protûgûe grow intimate, then fall out, they must address whether any material is sacred when an author is writing to win.
On the opposite end of the tale-telling spectrum are actors, whose antics are worthy of a genre all their own: The backstage farce. Come spring, the Good Theater will bring us Moss Hart's classic specimen, Light Up the Sky (April 16-May 10), set in the leading lady's hotel suite.
But let's move on to some other vocations and avocations. Richard Feynman was a Nobel-winning physicist and developer of the atomic bomb, but he also enjoyed playing the bongos. His wit and eccentricities drive QED, a one-man show to be staged at the Theater Project, starring Christopher Price (January 30-February 15).
Vocation and avocation are subjects of some contention in Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House, the season opener of Mad Horse (January 22-February 8): Lane's maid Matilde hates to clean and wants to be a stand-up comic. Lane's sister Virginia loves to clean. Lane herself is a rich doctor and needn't clean at all. Upheaval all around, as well as dirt, jokes, and romance.
Romance can also be had this summer at the Maine State Music Theatre, in Light in the Piazza (June 3-30), the numerous-award-winning musical set in the Tuscan countryside. The wife of an American businessman, touring Italy with her daughter, worries when the young girl falls in love with an Italian. A tragic secret is the cause of all the strife.
Of course, not everyone can watch their own epics play out in Tuscany and leisure. In The Poor of Portland, the American Irish Repertory Ensemble's spring show (May 14-31), melodramatics happen right in our own city. Adapted by AIRE from The Poor of New York, it features young lovers to sigh for and villains to hiss at. Another show with some class consciousness goes up at the Good Theater, as its season premiere: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sondheim's delicious send-up of social strata à la ancient Rome (January 22-February 15). And those archetypal folks of the brought-low Dust Bowl stratum, the Joads, will also come to Seacoast Repertory in The Grapes of Wrath (May 8-31).
Social strife will be evoked on stage in several other shows over the coming year. Moonchildren, for example, a comedy to be staged by USM (February 12-15), chronicles the doings of eight college students during the turbulent 1960s. And Lyric Music Theater will mount the louche nightclub dissolution of Germany on the brink of war, in Cabaret (April 24-May17).