Out & About: Dramas take center stage

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Stage dramas in various forms take center stage on the performing arts calendar this week in southern Maine, with two fine professional local productions plus a visit from a national touring company.

In Portland, Good Theater opened the Maine premiere of “The May Queen,” a rather funny drama where past and present collide.

Remarkably, that’s the same general description for “Under the Skin,” which is running through this Sunday at The Public Theatre in Lewiston.

Portland Ovations is hosting a two-day visit by the “Once” national touring company. “Once” is a dramatic tuner that won a slew of Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

At the University of Southern Maine School of Music, the opening faculty concert of the spring semester is slated for this Friday, featuring the Portland Brass Quintet.

‘The May Queen’

Many stage dramas work on the onion principle: The story proceeds as layer after layer is peeled back. That’s the general formula for “The May Queen,” a drama by Molly Smith Metzler that’s currently getting its Maine premiere thanks to Good Theater.

The outer layer is comedy, with most jokes hinging on small-town gossip and office politics in a very dysfunctional insurance agency. Then the story turns darker by multiple shades as the past relationships amongst the two principal characters are revealed.

The title character won her high school’s May Queen contest 20 years ago, then headed to Manhattan for a brilliant career as a top pharmaceuticals executive. As the play begins, she’s returned to her hometown under mysterious circumstances and takes a temporary clerical job at the agency.

Dark themes include alcoholism, drug addiction and stalking. Comic relief is provided by three characters in the office, one of whom has decorated her cubicle as a tiki bar.

Abbie Killeen shines in the title role, and she’s brilliantly paired opposite Thomas Ian Campbell, who nominated her for May Queen 20 years earlier. Laura Houck, Hannah Elaine Perry and Rob Cameron round out the cast, which is directed by Brian P. Allen.

I found this to be a totally engaging, compelling drama.

Good Theater presents “The May Queen” at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) through Feb. 26 with Wednesday and Thursday performances at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m. plus matinees at 3 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Call 885-5883.

‘Under the Skin’

“The May Queen” shares many characteristics with the show that’s currently running at The Public Theatre in Lewiston. “Under the Skin” is a story that revolves around four characters and their convoluted, complex and largely secret past relationships.

The plot concerns a wealthy older man who desperately needs a kidney donation. The story begins when he approaches his estranged daughter. “Under the Skin” is very funny at times, but as the evening progresses, darker underlying currents begin to dominate.

As the story unfolds, each individual’s tightly wound, closely guarded personal history is gradually revealed as it intersects with the others. As these dark secrets come to light, they dramatically collide and unravel in a very surprising denouement.

Playwright Michael Hollinger deftly establishes the gaps between each character’s self-conceived reality and the external judgments of others, and the ultimate revelation about the true relationships of these three characters’ intertwined connections makes for a devastating but hopeful conclusion.

The fully professional cast, directed by Janet Mitchko Schario, includes Doug Rees as the father and Annie Grier as his adult daughter. Actors Melissa Maxwell and Jon Hudson Odom are introduced as characters from outside their orbit – but it turns out that they’re not.

I was totally engaged by this utterly compelling drama, and it’s well worth the trip to Lewiston to catch it.

The Public Theatre, 31 Maple St. in Lewiston, presents “Under the Skin” Feb. 2-4 at 7:30 p.m. plus two matinees: Feb. 4 at 3 p.m. and Feb. 5 at 2 p.m. Call 782-3200.

‘Once’

A bittersweet love story is portrayed on stage in a novel format. That’s the general formula for “Once,” a Broadway musical that’s currently on a extended national tour. The buses and trucks stop in Portland next week for two performances, hosted by Portland Ovations.

The two principals have no names, identified only as “Guy” and “Girl.” The set is minimal, and cast members remain on stage even after they’ve exited a scene; they’re seated in full view of the audience and they double as the orchestra.

“Once” is a musical about the music business, especially the indie singer-songwriter. Both of the principals are musicians. “Guy” is a singer-songwriter who’s about to give up on his dreams. “Girl” plays piano and helps “Guy” get out of his funk.

“Once” was written by Enda Walsh, based on a 2007 film of the same name. The score was written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The best-known number from the show, “Falling Slowly,” had previously won an Oscar for Best Original Song. The original “Once” album also won a Grammy Award.

“Once” played nearly three years and almost 1,200 performances on its Broadway run, which began in 2012. The show was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won eight, including the coveted Best Musical and Best Book.

Portland Ovations presents “Once” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8-9. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Portland Brass Quintet

The spring semester has begun at the University of Southern Maine School of Music, and the first faculty concert of the season features the Portland Brass Quintet.

The Portland Brass Quintet members are active brass teachers throughout New England: Betty Rines and Dana Russian on trumpet, John Boden on horn, Mark Manduca on trombone and Jobey Wilson on tuba. Most also play with the Portland Symphony Orchestra.

The title of the concert is “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue,” and it will feature quintet staples by Johann Sebastian Bach, Victor Ewald and Morley Calvert, recent compositions by Kevin McKee and John Stevens plus familiar jazz standards.

The Portland Brass Quintet is often heard in southern Maine as part of other musical events, such as Christmas at the Cathedral and Christmas with Cornils. Friday provides a comparatively rare opportunity for the public to enjoy the quintet as an independent artistic entity.

Catch the Portland Brass Quintet at Corthell Hall on the University of Southern Maine’s Gorham campus at 8 p.m. Feb. 3. Call the music box office at 780-5555.

“The May Queen,” with actress Abbie Killeen in the title role, is a comic drama that is currently running at the St. Lawrence Arts Center in Portland, a professional production of Good Theater.

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