Out & About: Good Theater scores with ‘Mrs. Mannerly’

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Last weekend’s blast of winter weather and the end of Daylight Saving Time were stark reminders that pleasant evenings in theaters and concert halls play a bigger part in our lives from late fall to late spring.

And there are plenty of choices for pleasantly spending those long evenings in southern Maine.

Portland’s Good Theater has scored a major hit with “Mrs. Mannerly,” a two-actor comedy that’s centered around an etiquette class held half a century ago.

VentiCordi is a two-person classical music duo centered around an oboist and a violinist who will be playing in Portland on Sunday afternoon.

That evening, Crystal Bowersox, a singer who first gained fame as a runner-up on “American Idol” a few years ago, will give a concert in Portland.

Portland Symphony Orchestra plays the second program of its Tuesday Classical series on Nov. 11, an evening centered around Hector Berlioz’s celebrated “Symphonie Fantastique.”

‘Mrs. Mannerly’

Recollections and reflections on an etiquette class held half a century ago may seem like a most improbable vehicle for a play, but that’s exactly the premise of Good Theater’s latest hit. “Mrs. Mannerly,” by Jeffrey Hatcher, is a somewhat fictionalized recollection of a class he attended in the 1960s in Steubenville, Ohio.

“Mrs. Mannerly” is one of the most cleverly written plays I’ve seen in recent years, and Good Theater’s fully professional production, directed by Steve Underwood, is an outstanding example of theatrical art.

There are two actors: Kim Gordon plays the title role, a stern schoolmistress with exacting standards, while Michael Wood plays her 11-year-old student plus 32 other minor characters. Wood mostly plays the young student, but sometimes plays the older adult who recalls his experiences in Mrs. Mannerly’s class.

The plot mainly follows the student’s attempt to score an unprecedented 100 percent on the final examination, complicated by some incomplete revelations about Mrs. Mannerly’s past. The utterly surprising and delightful result is a very revealing look at the gap between illusion and reality.

Good Theater presents “Mrs. Mannerly” through Nov. 23 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) with Wednesday and Thursday performances at 7 p.m., Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Call 885-5883.

VentiCordi

For the past several seasons, the Portland String Quartet has adopted a new format for its fall-winter-spring subscription series. The first, third and fifth concerts feature the PSQ itself, while guest artists are invited to perform the second and fourth.

This Sunday marks the second concert in the 2014-2015 season, and VentiCordi is the invited guest ensemble. A combination of the Italian words for “winds” and “strings,” VentiCordi comprises PSQ first violinist Dean Stein and oboist Kathleen McNerney. VentiCordi was formed several years ago and has its own chamber music series in Kennebunk each summer, where I’ve attended several concerts.

VentiCordi isn’t strictly a duo – mostly due to the extremely limited repertoire available for that unorthodox pairing – so Stein and McNerney typically perform with guests of their own in a mix-and-match format. This Sunday they’ve invited flutist Sarah Brady, violist Kimberly Lehmann and cellist Ashima Scripp.

The classical repertoire for chamber music with winds and strings is fairly limited, so much of VentiCordi’s programming tends toward 20th- and 21st-century compositions. This Sunday’s program features five modern composers: Grazyna Bacewicz, Arthur Bliss, Hans Gal, Max Reger and Heitor Villa Lobos.

The Lark Society for Chamber Music presents VentiCordi at 2 p.m. Nov. 9 at Woodfords Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Call LARK at 761-1522.

Crystal Bowersox

The runner-up on the 2010 edition of “American Idol” will be visiting Portland on Sunday evening, performing with her small band in an intimate venue. A native of Ohio who once busked for spare change on the streets of Chicago, Crystal Bowersox has been touring as a professional musician ever since she narrowly missed grabbing the TV show’s top spot four years ago.

Bowersox certainly gets around, booking about 300 dates per year where she performs a mix of originals and covers. Her musical territory is a rich amalgam of soul, blues, folk and rock, and her versatile soprano voice ranges from a delicate, soulful croon to an impassioned, bluesy bellow.

She’s released two CDs since her “American Idol” days. “Farmer’s Daughter” was her debut album, hitting the stores in 2010, while “All That For This” was released last year. One year ago she scored a hit single, “Coming Out for Christmas,” which will likely be included on her upcoming album.

Crystal Bowersox performs at 8 p.m. Nov. 9 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

One of the most popular – and notorious – works of the Romantic Era will be the centerpiece of the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s second Tuesday Classical concert of the 2014-2015 season on Nov 11.

Hector Berlioz, a French composer who was smitten with love for an Irish actress he’d never met, composed his “Symphonie Fantastique” as an expression of his opium-fueled lust. At the time of its first performance, in Paris in 1830, “Symphonie Fantastique” called for at least 90 instruments – the largest ever specified at the time – and it remains among the biggest and most popular pieces in the orchestral repertoire.

Berlioz subtitled “Symphonie Fantastique” as “Five Episodes in the Life of an Artist,” and he penned elaborate program notes about the five movements. In brief: The artist’s unrequited love, fired with copious amounts of opium (perfectly legal at the time), leads to a dream in which he kills his beloved and is executed for murder. The final scene is dominated by witches, sorcerers and underworldly demons who celebrate the artist’s funeral.

Bizarre and brazen, the subject matter and narrative were revolutionary in 1830. Ditto the work’s size, scope and impassioned themes and orchestration. Despite being utterly unorthodox, “Symphonie Fantastique” was a big hit at its debut and has remained popular for nearly 200 years.

Two other works are scheduled: Bela Bartok’s “Romanian Dances” and Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments, Timpani and Strings.

PSO Maestro Robert Moody will wield the baton. Eight orchestra members have significant solo parts: John Boden, horn; Joseph Foley, trumpet; Amanda Hardy, oboe; Lisa Hennessy, flute; Tom Parchman, clarinet; Nicholas Orovich, trombone; Janet Polk, bassoon; and John Tanzer, timpani.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Sidebar Elements


Kim Gordon plays the title role in Good Theater’s current production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s comedy, “Mrs. Mannerly.”

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