Out & About: Powerful, stunning drama at Good Theater

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The season’s much-anticipated, much-talked-about Portland premiere is here. Good Theater’s current production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which won five Tony Awards, is a powerful, stunning drama that shouldn’t be missed.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra will launch its Tuesday Classical Series on Oct. 16, with a program headlined by Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Attendees can expect a homecoming feeling; the guest maestro will be Bruce Hangen.

Classical music on a one-man scale will be offered by Portland Ovations on Oct. 13. The venerable arts presenter will host internationally renowned piano virtuoso Inon Barnatan.

Ronnie Earl is a classic blues guitarist. He’ll be visiting Portland this Saturday with his longtime band, the Broadcasters.

‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’

Every so often a powerful drama comes along that is truly unforgettable in concept, scope and execution. For 2018 it’s the Portland premiere of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” a 2012 British play by Simon Stephens, based on the 2003 novel by Mark Haddon.

At Good Theater in Portland, artistic director Brian Allen scheduled this tour de force of stagecraft as his 2018-2019 season opener, and he’s already having regrets – for not scheduling it for two additional weeks. Ticket sales are that strong, with most performances selling out far in advance.

It’s also a rarity in another respect. The principal character is autistic, and the drama swirls around that intractable neurological handicap.

When it debuted on London’s West End, the play won seven Laurence Olivier Awards, the highest honor in British theater. The Broadway production won five Tonys.

The story is one of self-discovery, begun in a most unusual fashion one night when Christopher, the central character, discovers his neighbor’s dog dead in a garden, impaled by a pitchfork. (On stage, this is represented by a chalk drawing.)

Initially suspected of the crime, Christopher turns detective. The discoveries he makes about his parents, his neighbors and his school drive the action through to a very unexpected conclusion. But it’s Christopher’s own journey of self-discovery that makes this play so powerful.

The Herculean role of Christopher is brilliantly handled by Griffin Carpenter, a 23-year-old from Cape Elizabeth who recently graduated with a degree in theater from New York University. He intensely studied autism for this role, and convincingly delivers this very difficult character, hardly ever leaving the stage.

His strained relationship with his parents is central to the plot, with actors Rob Cameron and Janice Gardiner expressing the anguish of dealing with their son and his handicap. Meredith Brustlin does a fine job as Christopher’s schoolteacher. Four other actors portray a large variety of minor characters.

The 2018-2019 season is very young, but I suspect that when it’s over next spring, Good Theater’s production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” will stand out as the most memorable, stunning, powerful show.

Good Theater presents “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) in Portland through Oct. 28. Visit GoodTheater.com for available performances.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Expect a bit of a retro feel when the Portland Symphony Orchestra opens its Tuesday Classical Series on Oct. 16.

The conductor will be familiar to many southern Maine music aficionados: Bruce Hangen. Maestro Hangen was the PSO music director for 10 seasons, 1976-1986, plus he was one of the co-founders of Opera Maine, leading the pit orchestra for its first several seasons. He made many friends in Portland, and will be welcomed back with great enthusiasm.

Hangen is one of a number of guest conductors for the PSO’s 2018-2019 season. Eckart Preu was recently appointed to the position of permanent music director, but due to scheduling conflicts – typical of today’s top conductors – he won’t be fully running the show until 2019-2020.

Two works are on Hangen’s program. First will be “Schelomo,” a cello concerto by Swiss-American composer Ernest Bloch. “Schelomo,” meaning Solomon in Hebrew, was the final work in the composer’s “Jewish Cycle.”

After intermission, Hangen will lead the orchestra in Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, subtitled “Titan.” It represents an early orchestral masterpiece of the last of the great German 19th-century Romantic composers.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Inon Barnatan

Israeli-born American piano virtuoso Inon Barnatan launches Portland Ovations’ regular season Oct. 13 with a classical program split between Maurice Ravel and Modest Mussorgsky.

Barnatan, a New York resident who was born in 1979 in Tel Aviv, is much in demand around the world. Among his many stops, he performed in Maine with Bay Chamber Concerts in Rockland nine years ago, where he earned the Andrew Wolf Memorial Award. Other honors include an Avery Fischer Career Grant in 2009.

For his Portland performance, Barnatan has chosen a two-part program. The first will be five short pieces by Ravel, concluding with his famous showcase, “La Valse.” The second half of the program will be the original solo piano version of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

Portland Ovations presents Inon Barnatan at 2 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters

A longtime fixture on Boston’s vibrant music scene will play Portland on Saturday. Ronnie Earl, whose extended career as a blues guitarist and bandleader began when he attended a Muddy Waters concert in Boston nearly 50 years ago, will visit One Longfellow Square with his ensemble of the past three decades, the Broadcasters.

Earl teaches blues guitar at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and several of his bandmates are also connected to that distinguished school of popular music. He has copped the Blues Music Awards top honor for Best Guitarist three times, most recently in 2014.

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters have released an amazing 26 albums in their decades together, the most recent being last year’s “The Luckiest Man.” And Earl himself has guested on another 40 albums that were led by others.

The band’s specialty is instrumental virtuosity; they consistently draw big crowds on their periodic visits to Portland. I’ve seen them several times and I’ve always enjoyed the evening.

Catch Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters at 8 p.m. Oct. 13 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

An autistic young man is the central character in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” a powerful drama running at Portland’s Good Theater.

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