2012’s many theatrical joys

A year in footlights
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  December 19, 2012

CASUAL MENACE Acorn's portrayal of Pinter's study of terror.
The past year in Portland theater saw a gain, a loss, and a move: First, summer brought us the first annual PortFringe festival and the inaugural Portland Performing Arts Festival. Between the two, throngs of theatergoers raced between more than 50 shows around the city, performed by over 100 artists, with performances ranging from a marionette Beckett short to a Melville-Mamet mash-up. Secondly, and sadly, this year the arts community at large lost a fine and vital venue with the closing of Lucid Stage, which will be missed. Its closure gave rise to the relocation of Mad Horse Theatre Company to South Portland, where the company converted its front rehearsal area into a cozy black box for its baptismal SoPo production, David Mamet's November.

Elsewhere in theater, audiences encountered an array of bracingly strange and exquisite productions. In celebration of 2012, I give you some of the highlights.

AQUITANIA, ZIGGURAT THEATRE ENSEMBLE This ambrosia of stylized wit and fantasia was billed as "Alice in Wonderland meets Magritte" by the Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble, a quirkily lyrical company that recently relocated from L.A. to Bowdoinham. In the town hall there, with delicious performances and luscious, Magritte-inspired production design, Ziggurat staged a colorful grown-up fairy tale of chess-boards, magic armories, and jazz-age chanteuses in red.

THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, ACORN PRODUCTIONS Michael Howard directed a superbly paced and profoundly unnerving production of Harold Pinter's absurdist study of terror. Harlan Baker and Joe Quinn were in top form meting out casual, nonsensical menace as the strangers who come to a seaside boarding house looking for Stanley, who, in Josh Brassard's devastating portrayal, declined from insecure sarcasm to abject terror to drooling catatonia.

DOCTOR FAUSTUS LIGHTS THE LIGHTS, PORTLAND THEATER COLLECTIVE This is the show I came away from PortFringe most raving about: Director Tess Van Horn's alternately antic, lyrical, and hair-raising staging of Gertrude Stein's experimental short. In Geno's checkerboard depths, a daring and canny cast — including Rob Holt, Casey Turner, Vanessa Romanoff, and Ian Carlsen — lit and extinguished a beautiful mutant bloom of lamps.

EURYDICE, THE THEATER PROJECT Christopher Price directed a luminous production of Sarah Ruhl's imaginative reinterpretation, starring the exquisite Casey Turner. On Price's striking set, Eurydice encountered raining elevators, excellently grumpy stones, and a house made of twine by her father (the fine Craig Ela). Price's gorgeous production radiated warmth, humor, and a wistful, lovely magic.

FAITH HEALER, AMERICAN IRISH REPERTORY ENSEMBLE Actors Tony Reilly, Susan Reilly, and Will Rhys wove something rich, eerie, and incantatory of Brian Friel's alternating monologues, and Mr. Reilly conveyed both the sheer will and the wary, superstitious sensitivity of the arrogant man with the strange sometime gift.

GHOSTS, LOREM IPSUM The company's excellent production of Ibsen's scathing social critique, staged this spring at SPACE, was provocative in that its highly restrained, traditional performances (directed by Ian Carlsen and the Phoenix's Nicholas Schroeder) were accompanied by the more experimental innovations of Jessica Townes George's eerie installation, with film loops by Derek Kimball and David Meiklejohn.

HENRY IV, THEATER AT MONMOUTH New artistic director Dawn McAndrews went steam-punk on this Shakespeare classic, but the performances were among the supplest and most classically intelligent I've seen of the Bard's work. Chris Allen's Hal matured with a long, nuanced arc; as his foil, Dustin Tucker demonstrated his magnificent range: his Percy was brilliantly mercurial, quick, and savvy.

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Related: Ibsen's Ghosts haunt all of SPACE, Maine's quirky summer stage season, The second half of the season brings surprises, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Lorem Ipsum, American Irish Repertory Ensemble, Acorn Productions,  More more >
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