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Out & About: Powerful plays, plus music and dance

Lifestyle

Out & About: Powerful plays, plus music and dance

It’s hard to imagine two plays so diametrically opposite in tone and message than “August: Osage County” and “Indoor/Outdoor.” The first is a disturbing drama about disintegrating family relationships, while the other is a cute romantic romp with a cheerfully offbeat message.

Each is a masterpiece of its genre, and each had its Maine premiere last weekend. I recommend both.

Good Theater’s production of “August: Osage County” is playing through Nov. 7 in Portland, while “Indoor/Outdoor” runs through this Sunday in Lewiston.

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra opens its 2010-2011 season Saturday in Lewiston and Sunday in Brunswick. Guest artist will be soprano Charlotte Dobbs.

Elizabeth Streb is famed for her extremely athletic choreography. Her company, Streb Extreme Dance, visits Portland on Oct. 27.

‘August: Osage County’

One of the most powerful American plays in recent decades is Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County,” a darkly comedic drama about the disintegration and self-destruction of three generations of a Midwest family.

The 2007 Broadway production won both the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The Maine premiere, by Good Theater, opened last weekend.

It is a large, sprawling play with a cast of 13 and a huge set. The Broadway production recreated a three-story house; Good Theater’s set, designed by Steve Underwood, spills out of its available space in all dimensions. Although the formal time span covers only a few weeks, “August: Osage County” extensively revisits long-past episodes in the lives of the characters, giving the impression that decades roll by.

Director Brian P. Allen has assembled a top-notch professional cast. The action mostly revolves around two bitterly opposed characters, an aging woman and her middle-age daughter. They are together for the funeral of the patriarch of the family, who has drowned himself.

Both of the two principal women characters get bravura performances. Lisa Stathoplos is sensational as the 65-year-old matriarch of the family, a melancholy woman who is addicted to drugs and possesses a razor-edged tongue. She’s more than matched by Kathleen Kimball as the conflicted daughter who is vainly attempting to keep her own family together while she simultaneously tries to control her mother’s kith and kin.

The language is at times very foul and it’s an emotional roller-coaster. It has much the character of a multi-episode soap opera, as hidden secrets are revealed at regular intervals during the play’s three-hour-plus running time.

I’ve been attending Good Theater since its inception, and “August: Osage County” is definitely the most powerful drama the company has mounted to date.

Good Theater presents “August: Osage County” at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) in Portland through Nov. 7. Performance times are 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday with 2 p.m. matinees both Saturday and Sunday. Call 885-5883.

‘Indoor/Outdoor’

At the extreme antipodal opposite is “Indoor/Outdoor,” a wonderful comedy with a powerful message about love and relationships. Penned by Kenny Finkle, its Off-Broadway production opened in 2006; The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn is presenting the Maine premiere.

Formally, “Indoor/Outdoor” is a play about humans and their relationships with their cats. With a professional (Equity contract) cast of four, two playing felines (but don’t expect cat costumes) and two playing humans, the show reaches far beyond its nominal boundaries. I love cats and I loved this play.

Top performances are given by two women, Sandra Blaney playing an aging female cat whose reminiscences give structure to the play. Blaney is funny, engaging and believable. The top comic character is a human cat psychologist, brilliantly and energetically played for a gazillion laughs by Heather Dilly. Chris Schario directs, getting fine performances from two other actors as well: Evan Mueller playing the owner of the principal cat figure and Matthew Schmidt, playing a tomcat with a wild side.

The Public Theatre, corner of Lisbon and Maple in Lewiston, presents “Indoor/Outdoor” through Oct. 24 with 7:30 p.m. performances Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Call 782-3200.

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra

An outstanding soprano will be featured as the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra opens its 2010-2011 season with a Saturday concert in Lewiston, then repeats the program Sunday in Brunswick.

Entering its eighth full year under the baton of music director and conductor Rohan Smith, the MSO’s nearly 80 members continue to tackle new challenges – and continue to build audiences.

I’ve been attending MSO concerts for the past nine years, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching this organization blossom in musical proficiency and community stature.

Geographically speaking, MSO membership runs from south of Portland to Penobscot Bay. Some members can boast professional connections and many have formal classical training. But none earns a living as a professional instrumentalist.

This weekend’s season-opening concerts will feature Charlotte Dobbs, a soprano who holds two music degrees, from the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute. Dobbs has performed extensively in Europe in concerts and operatic roles. She will be featured in “Rueckert Lieder,” Gustav Mahler’s renowned song cycle.

Dobbs’ appearance continues the MSO’s policy of inviting top-tier guests for each concert. Their presence gives orchestra members the opportunity to work side by side with international-caliber artists.

The Midcoast Symphony Orchestra performs in Lewiston at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Franco-American Heritage Center at St. Mary’s (corner of Cedar and Oxford) and at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at Crooker Auditorium at Brunswick High School. For Lewiston info call 689-2000; for Brunswick call 371-2028.

Streb Extreme Action

Portland is about to be invaded by a radical troupe of terpsichorean extremists. But before calling the police or Homeland Security, let’s note that these extremists are members of a modern dance company, and their radical actions will be limited to exceptionally athletic and daring movements and motions on the stage at Merrill Auditorium.

Streb Extreme Action is the company, and founder Elizabeth Streb, a pioneer in the field of maximum terpsichorean performance, compares her dancers to action heroes. Her award-winning work intertwines the disciplines of daredevil dance, gymnastics, boxing, rodeo, circus and Hollywood stunt-work. Her signature choreography incorporates radical moves with names like skudges, pops, X-flips, rebounds, near collisions, body slams and suicide dives.

Her professional reputation stretches back to 1975, and she’s known for her extraordinary risk-taking and experimental shows. Streb programs risk in all of her choreography, giving sensations of extreme feelings while watching the performers.

Portland Ovations presents Streb Extreme Action at 7 p.m. Oct. 27 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.