Out & About: An emotional ‘Trip to Bountiful’

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As April begins, so begins the season of transition on the arts and entertainment calendar. Good Theater, Portland’s top fall-winter-spring thespian troupe, mounted the final show of its 15th season last weekend. “The Trip to Bountiful” takes audiences on an emotional journey, and you’ll want to buy a ticket and ride along.

The Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival, a production of the Portland Conservatory of Music that happens Friday through Sunday, is the first of a slew of such events that dot Maine’s A&E calendar through September.

Oratorio Chorale has slated two performances by its women’s sub-ensemble, Sweetest in the Gale. Artistic director Emily Isaacson’s program is titled “Baroque Beauties,” and features two seldom-performed works by women composers. Performances are scheduled Saturday in Falmouth and Sunday in Brunswick.

‘The Trip to Bountiful’

An emotional journey through time, space and attitude: That’s a summary of Good Theater’s final show of its 15th season. “The Trip to Bountiful,” by Horton Foote, is a dazzling piece of theater that revolves around three very un-dazzling characters.

At the center is a quarrelsome threesome, beginning with Carrie Watts, an old lady who dreams of visiting her girlhood home one last time before she dies. She’s living in a cramped apartment in Houston with her overprotective adult son and his bossy, self-centered wife.

Carrie’s goal is to escape the apartment – and the nonstop tension within it – and make one last trip to beautiful Bountiful, a fictional Texas town, half a day away by bus. She succeeds, aided by three helpful characters along the way. But she discovers that Bountiful is now a ghost town; its last resident died a few days earlier.

That’s the gist of the story, but this play’s attraction is the multi-faceted character of Carrie, brilliantly played by Louisa Flaningam, a professional actress with a resume that spans 48 years, including Broadway and national tours. Flaningam’s ability to bring out and develop the many aspects of this complex character is amazing. She’s ably aided by local professionals Christopher Holt as the son and Amy Roche as his wife. Smaller roles are nicely covered by Glenn Anderson, Hannah Daly and Michael Kimball.

Francois Lamothe’s highly detailed set is another asset. Brian Allen, the company’s co-founder and artistic director, skillfully helms yet another Good Theater triumph.

Good Theater presents “The Trip to Bountiful” through April 30 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) in Portland. Performances are slated for Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Call 885-5883.

Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival

It’s coda time for one of Maine’s most remarkable musicians, a man whose unpretentious influence has been deeply felt throughout this state since he arrived in 1964.

Elliott Schwartz, longtime professor of music at Bowdoin College, was not only a superb concert pianist, but a music scholar and composer as well. It is this latter distinction that garnered most of the attention. Countless newspaper and magazine articles rightly referred to him as “the dean of Maine composers.”

I interviewed him at least a dozen times in the past 25 years, and counted on his friendship and willingness to share his vast store of musical knowledge.

Schwartz died last December, two years after the death of his wife Deedee, a noted visual artist in her own right.

Schwartz founded the Portland Conservatory of Music’s annual Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival and directed it for its first eight years.

The centerpiece of this year’s festival – the first without his physical presence –will be the U.S. premiere of the last major work Schwartz completed before he died: String Quartet No. 3, subtitled “Portrait for Deedee,” to be performed by the Portland String Quartet. Another tribute to Schwartz is a piece by Mark DeVoto for organ and piano.

Those are highlights of Friday’s opening concert. On Saturday a major focus will be on recently departed composers – Schwartz included – in a variety of musical formats and ensembles. Living composers will also be represented. The concert also includes chamber music for strings, winds, piano, and solo guitar by John Newell, Bruce Fithian, Vineet Shende, Gregory Hall, Jesse Feinberg, and Colby College students Liam Butchart and Colleen Wright.

Sunday’s concert observes National Poetry Month by presenting music written to accompany the spoken word. Multiple genres will be represented, including classical art music and jazz. Former Maine Poet Laureate Betsy Sholl will read several of her poems in collaboration with jazz musicians Gary Wittner and Jim Cameron.

Mark Tipton’s quartet, Les Sorciers Perdus, will perform with Down East poet Alan Brooks. Philip Carlsen will offer a setting for string trio of a long, contrapuntal poem by Robert Bringhurst, which the musicians speak while they play. In “Jet-Pack for One,” Beth Wiemann will combine her bass clarinet music with an electronic reading of a poem by Miriam Gamble.

Portland Conservatory of Music, 202 Woodford St., presents the Ninth Annual Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival April 7-9 at its own facilities at Woodford’s Congregational Church, plus the SPACE Gallery in downtown Portland. Call 775-3356 or visit portlandconservatoryofmusic.org/backcove for details.

Sweetest in the Gale

The Oratorio Chorale’s April concert focuses on the rich and diverse music of 17th- and 18th-century composers with a program titled “Baroque Beauties,” to be performed Saturday in Falmouth and Sunday in Brunswick.

Sweetest in the Gale, the Chorale’s women’s chamber chorus, shares the contrast and brilliance of works by Tomas Victoria, Giovanni Pergolesi, Claudio Monteverdi, Barbara Strozzi and Caterina Assandra. The latter two are among the earliest pioneer women composers in the classical tradition.

Sweetest in the Gale will be joined by soloists Mary Sullivan, the Oratorio Chorale’s artist-in-residence, and Jenna Guiggey, of St. Mary Schola.

“‘Baroque’ is synonymous with drama, emotions and magnificence,” says artistic director Emily Isaacson. “Opera was invented during this period, and the theatrical flair resonated through all other art forms. Composers were interested in how they could use music to move the listeners’ emotions. This music dances, soars and tugs at your heartstrings.”

The chorus and soloists will be accompanied by a string quartet plus an organist from the Maine Chamber Ensemble.

Two performances are slated: April 8 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 43 Foreside Rd. in Famouth, and April 9 at 3 p.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 27 Pleasant St. in Brunswick. Call Brown Paper Tickets at 800-838-3006.

“The Trip to Bountiful” is the final production of Good Theater’s 15th season. It runs through April 30.

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