Out & About: Stunning production of new drama in Portland

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Theatrical events dominate this week’s top choices among the performing arts, with one new drama and a classic favorite musical on offer.

Top billing in my opinion goes to Good Theater’s stunning production of “A Doll’s House Part 2,” which recently garnered eight Tony Award nominations and has just been released to local companies. It’s a re-imagined sequel to the famous Henrik Ibsen play from more than a century ago.

Portland Ovations is hosting a national touring company production of “The Sound of Music.”

Oratorio Chorale offers three concerts this weekend in Portland and Brunswick.

‘A Doll’s House Part 2’

She’s back. Nora, the most famous door-slammer in 19th-century stagecraft, has returned to the people she abandoned 15 years earlier.

The reference is to Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” in which Nora feels trapped in a loveless marriage, and finally walks out, slamming the door behind her.

For 2017, American playwright Lucas Hnath conceived a sequel to the original 1879 production, giving Nora a 21st-century voice and sensibilities, but still set more than a century ago.

It’s a very clever idea; Hnath’s play garnered eight Tony Award nominations and is currently the most frequently produced play in America, including three in Maine this season.

I found Hnath’s writing annoyingly didactic at times, but Good Theater delivers a stunning production, mostly due to the acting abilities of its cast, led by a powerful, bravura performance by Abigail Killeen, a Bowdoin College theater professor who specializes in women’s issues. Here in “Part 2” she still plays the familiar Nora, but now she’s dealing with stemming from her earlier actions.

James Noel Hoban serves nicely as Nora’s husband, her principal foil, while Maureen Butler and Hannah Daly also give excellent performances – again as foils to Nora. Good Theater co-founder Steve Underwood directs.

Good Theater presents “A Doll’s House Part 2” at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) in Portland through March 17, with 7 p.m. performances Wednesday and Thursday, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Call 835-0895.

‘The Sound of Music’

One of the most popular Broadway shows in history is coming to Merrill Auditorium this weekend. “The Sound of Music,” which broke all sorts of sales and patronage records and copped five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, when it debuted in 1959, will be presented by Portland Ovations.

The show is set in Austria on the eve of World War II, at the time the country was annexed by Nazi Germany. In contrast to this political background is the creation of the Trapp Family Singers, a musical ensemble that fled the Nazis, resettled in Vermont and enjoyed great success in America in the 1940s and 1950s.

The book was a collaboration between Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, based on the autobiography of Maria von Trapp, the central character. Lindsay and Crouse made many alterations and additions for purposes of the stage. The score was the final collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.

Despite the success of the 1959 Broadway production plus sales of three million copies of the original cast recording, the show is even better known for the 1965 film version, judged too treacly sweet by many.

I much prefer the stage version, which more accurately reflects the tenor and tensions of that perilous era, without in any way diminishing the powerful sweep of its rightly famous music and its (largely) true story.

Portland Ovations presents “The Sound of Music” for three performances at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: March 1 at 7 p.m. and March 2 at 12:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Oratorio Chorale

Gioachino Rossini was Italy’s superstar opera composer, with a total of 39 under his belt before retiring in 1830. During the next decades of his life, he wrote little. But one of his latest works is also one of his most highly regarded – and a long way from opera.

Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solennelle” (“Little Solemn Mass”) will be performed three times this weekend by the Oratorio Chorale in Portland and Brunswick, under direction of Emily Isaacson. She has chosen to present the work in Rossini’s own original 1863 arrangement, which features two pianos and a harmonium (a form of small organ) plus soloists and chorus.

Performances are slated for March 2 at 7 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. Luke, 143 State St. in Portland and March 3 at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 1 Middle St. in Brunswick. Call 800-838-3006.

“The Sound of Music,” one of the most popular Broadway musicals of all time, is coming to Merrill Auditorium this weekend as part of Portland Ovations’ 2018-2019 season.

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