Out & About: Cold-weather seasons drawing to a close

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Spring flowers have blossomed, the leaves are mostly out and the grass is green. That seasonal change also signals the end of the fall-winter-spring seasons for many of southern Maine’s arts producers and presenters.

This week is especially rich in season-ending shows.

The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn is running its final play of 2010-2011: a fine professional production of “Beau Jest,” a wonderful romantic comedy by James Sherman.

Portland Ovations goes out with a pair of concerts. “John the Revelator,” a 21st century Mass by Phil Kline for six voices, string quartet and one massive organ, finishes off the subscription series on May 15. Plus there’s an added bonus: Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, a top modern bluegrass act, performs May 18.

Eilen Jewell, a Boston-based roots singer will appear with her band at Portland’s One Longfellow Square on Saturday, part of her tour in support of “Queen of the Minor Key,” her latest album.

‘Beau Jest’

This play pushes a lot of buttons. That’s the quick analysis of “Beau Jest,” a beautifully written romantic comedy by James Sherman that closes the 2010-2011 season at The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn.

I was especially impressed by Sherman’s very clever, very modern way of exploiting tradition themes of drama and comedy, such as the illusion-reality dualism, used for dramatic horsepower, and the oddball juxtaposition of conflicting frames of reference, effectively employed for comic effect.

The play centers around a young woman from an orthodox Jewish family who has fallen in love with a gentile. Hoping to avoid or delay the inevitable ugly confrontation with her parents, she hires an actor to play the part of her fiance at a family gathering. Her parents instantly love the imposter, and soon the young woman does, too.

Director Janet Mitchko Schario has assembled a fine professional (Equity contract) cast for “Beau Jest.” Tops is Sarah Corey playing the frenetic young lady who is caught in the crosshairs of romantic/cultural conflict. Corey is always a pleasure to watch, and it’s fun to follow her frenzied schemes as they devolve from laughable farce to serious drama. I also liked Marina Re and Bill Van Horn as the bickering older couple, with Re’s portrayal of the archetypal overbearing Jewish mother one of the show’s highlights.

The Public Theatre, 31 Maple St. in Lewiston, presents “Beau Jest” through May 15 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Call 782-3200.

‘John the Revelator’

A 21st-century Mass written for six Renaissance voices, string quartet and large pipe organ is being presented by Portland Ovations this Sunday, and it promises to be one of most talked-about events of the year in southern Maine.

The title is “John the Revelator,” a powerful new version of the Christian ceremony written by Phil Kline, a contemporary New York musician who’s known for his out-of-the-box compositions for guitar, electronica and other media. Among the elements of “John the Revelator” is the use of two traditional American hymns to open and close the Mass, plus sections of verse that range from the biblical Lamentations of Jeremiah to the poetry of David Shapiro.

Kline wrote “John the Revelator” with a specific vocal group in mind: Lionheart, a globetrotting ensemble of six male singers who specialize in Renaissance works. The score also calls for a string quartet. For this Sunday’s performance, the Portland String Quartet, now in its 42nd season with original personnel, will appear. Another key element of the score is a large organ. Portland’s Kotzschmar Memorial Organ, one of the world’s most impressive, will provide the pipe power on Sunday.

Portland Ovations presents “John the Revelator” at 3 p.m. May 15 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Steve Martin and Steep Canyon Rangers

Expect a few banjo jokes on May 18, when one of America’s leading stand-up comedians headlines the final show of Portland Ovations’ 2010-2011 season. Unlike many who find banjos and their pickers to be an easy subject of mirth, Steve Martin enjoys special standing: He’s a Grammy Award-winning banjo player himself.

Although he’s known best for his long career in comedy, both as a performer and scriptwriter for others, banjo playing and composing music has always been a big part of Martin’s life and he’s made numerous recordings, including a 2001 remake of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” with Earl Scruggs and his 2010 Grammy winner, “The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo.”

He’s currently touring with the Steep Canyon Rangers, a classic five-man string band comprised of guitar, fiddle, bass, banjo and mandolin. Martin adds a second banjo and additional vocals, making for an intriguing and exciting sound.

“It’s one of the most unique bluegrass concerts you’ll ever see,” promises Woody Platt, the Rangers’ lead singer and guitarist. “You get the Steve Martin you would expect, but you also get very serious, thoughtful music.”

And if you thought two banjos were enough for one evening, there’s a third. Opening for Martin and the Rangers will be Tony Trischka and Territory, his four-piece band. Trischka is a friend of Martin and one of the most influential banjo players in the world of roots music. Trischka is both a master picker and a top teacher of the instrument.

Catch Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers plus Tony Trischka and Territory at 7:30 p.m. May 18 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Eilen Jewell

Last summer when I attended a concert by Eilen Jewell, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter from the Boston area, I was profoundly impressed by her voice, delivery and style of writing – and I eagerly anticipated her next visit to Maine. But Jewell’s return was complicated by the fact that her host venue was suffering financial straits, first changing locations and then going out of business entirely.

But Jewell is returning to the Pine Tree State this Saturday, and her new venue is One Longfellow Square, Portland’s best spot for live music in intimate settings.

An Idaho native, Jewell’s been playing professionally in the Boston area since 2003, and has released four CDs that span a lot of artistic territory, including a cover of Loretta Lynn tunes. Her latest, “Queen of the Minor Key,” is just out and adds to her reputation for eclecticism delivered with impeccable professionalism and style.

Catch Eilen Jewell and her band at 8 p.m. May 14 at One Longfellow Square (corner of Congress and State) in Portland. Opening is Gunther Brown, a five-piece Portland roots band. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

Eilen Jewell, a Boston-based roots singer, will appear with her band at One Longfellow Square in Portland on Saturday, May 14.