Out & About: Theatrical farce, a variety of music
Leave 'em laughing is a tried-and-true maxim of show business. This month it’s the exit strategy as The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn wraps up its 2013-2014 season with “Moonlight & Magnolias,” a very funny farce that runs through this weekend.
Music for many tastes is happening in Portland. First up is Kris Delmhorst, a topnotch singer-songwriter from Boston. She’s just released a new CD, and she’ll be playing at One Longfellow Square on Saturday.
On May 15, Portland Chamber Music Festival has a intriguing concert of very new, cutting-edge contemporary music. Artistic director Jenny Elowitch loves to venture far outside the proverbial “box,” and this downtown Portland event is a perfect opportunity.
‘Moonlight & Magnolias’
A histrionic and hysterically funny look at history: That’s the central concept of “Moonlight & Magnolias,” the exquisite farce that finishes the 2013-2014 season at The Public Theatre. It’s well worth the drive to enjoy this fully professional theater company deliver a thoroughly satisfying production of a wonderful script.
The play is very loosely based on an actual historical show business event: the frenzied writing of the screenplay for “Gone with the Wind,” the 1939 epic film that was based on Margaret Mitchell’s blockbuster novel of the same name. After buying the film rights to the book and hiring the cast, producer David O. Selznick was several weeks into filming when he decided to replace the director and throw out the original screenplay.
Over a period of five frantic days, Hollywood’s renowned “script doctor, Ben Hecht, wrote a new screenplay, despite the fact that he hadn’t read the novel.
In “Moonlight & Magnolias,” playwright Ron Hutchinson envisions Selznick and replacement director Victor Fleming acting out the novel for Hecht, who feverishly creates the new screenplay on a manual typewriter.
Along the way, these three characters produce laughs by the barrel, but they also seriously deal with real issues that range from slavery and the American Civil War to anti-Semitism in the 1930s and the impending World War II.
Director Janet Mitchko Schario has assembled a superb cast, led by David Davalos playing the frantically agitated Selznick and Mike Anthony as the harried screenwriter. These two get great support from Peter Simon Hilton as director Fleming. A smaller but very funny role is played by Cheryl Reynolds, who portrays Selznick’s secretary.
The Public Theatre, corner of Maple and Lisbon in Lewiston, presents “Moonlight & Magnolias” through May 11 with performances May 8-9 at 7:30 p.m., May 10 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and May 11 at 2 p.m. Call 782-3200.
With today’s electronic distractions and myriad other forms of mental escapes, focusing on what’s important can be a challenge. That’s the central premise of “Blood Test,” the title song on a new album that’s being released this spring by Boston singer-songwriter Kris Delmhorst, who will visit Portland this Saturday.
Delmhorst has been a fixture of the Boston music scene since 1996. Boasting a fine soprano voice and first-rate writing skills, Delmhorst has released 10 CDs of her own music over the past 17 years. She’s quite versatile, equally at home with soft, delicate solo numbers accompanied by herself on acoustic guitar, or rocking out with an electric and percussive sound with her band.
Listening to a few tracks from the new album, it’s obvious to me that Delmhorst remains at the top of her game. The title song itself boasts a strong melody and an even stronger message. “‘Blood Test’ is a song about how difficult it can be, in a world that never shuts up, to slow down, tune in and establish what’s actually happening and what actually matters,” she explains.
It’s a message that’s perfect for a singer-songwriter, and I plan to be there Saturday when she delivers it.
Kris Delmhorst visits One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland, at 8 p.m. May 10. Call 761-1757.
Portland Chamber Music Festival
Music by living composers has been a regular feature of the Portland Chamber Music Festival since the beginning in 1994, with a handful of pieces interspersed among the established classical canon.
A much more recent development is PCMF’s all-contemporary concerts, which have been held at SPACE Gallery for the past several years. I’ve attended a couple of them, and was very impressed by artistic director Jenny Elowitch’s success in an effort where many of her colleagues have tried and failed: finding new and much younger audiences for art music.
On May 15, PCMF will host another concert in this series, with music by three living composers featured. Best known is John Adams, who has attained a measure of real success in the contemporary music field – a rare accomplishment.
“John’s Book of Alleged Dances,” was originally written for the Kronos String Quartet, with the addition of pre-recorded sounds. The curious use of the word “alleged” in the title is a playful reference to the fact that when the piece was written, the namesake dances had not been invented.
Elowitch notes that the entire piece was conceived in a playful vein.
Composer Dan Visconti’s music has been commissioned by ensembles including the Kronos Quartet, the Da Capo Chamber Players, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Albany Symphony and the Berlin Philharmonic Scharoun Ensemble. He currently serves as artistic director of the VERGE Ensemble, the longest-standing presenter of contemporary music in Washington, D.C.
His piece, “Ramshackle Songs,” was written five years ago.
Composer Scott Ordway is visiting professor of music at Bates College. During the 2013–14 season, his orchestral, choral, chamber and multimedia works were heard on 35 concerts in 11 U.S. states and Europe. Ordway’s work is titled “Handshakes.”
Elowitch comments on “Handshakes”: “Scott subtitles the quartet ‘eight micro-movements for string quartet,’ and they’re really ‘micro,’ sometimes only a few seconds. Each of the movements is an homage to a master composer of the past.”
The performers comprise a standard string quartet: two violins, viola and cello. The two violinists are well known to Portland audiences: Elowitch herself, who often plays with the Boston Symphony, and Portland Symphony concertmaster Charles Dimmick.
Violist Ralph Ferris is a veteran of another string quartet that specializes in contemporary music, plus he’s got a Grammy nomination to his credit. Cellist Jennifer Lucht is a member of the acclaimed Calyx Piano Trio.
Catch this intriguing concert at 8 p.m. May 15 at SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St. in Portland. A meet-and-greet cocktail hour precedes the performance. Call SPACE at 828-5600.