Out & About: ‘The Cocktail Hour’ has sparkle and fizz

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Theater and music top this week’s arts and entertainment listings, with the geographic center of gravity shifting north and east of Portland.

The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn, a fully professional company, opened its 2014-2015 season with A.R. Gurney’s “The Cocktail Hour,” a wonderfully incisive comedy that sparkles and fizzes from opening curtain to denouement. It stars a veteran husband-wife team who have impressed L-A audiences twice before in past seasons.

Two symphony orchestras from southern Maine are playing well-known piano concertos from northern Europe this weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, the Midcoast Symphony opens its 2014-2015 season in Lewiston and Topsham with a program featuring Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

On Sunday, the Portland Symphony’s program revolves around Edvard Greig’s one-and-only Piano Concerto.

Southern Maine jazz fans should mark Oct. 30 on their calendars. That’s when John Clark’s Jazz Workshop takes place in Portland.

‘The Cocktail Hour’

The journey of self-discovery has been a powerful dramatic device since the earliest Greek playwrights. In modern usage, there are few better examples than “The Cocktail Hour,” the current production at The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn.

Written by A.R. Gurney, one of America’s most popular playwrights, “The Cocktail Hour” is also highly autobiographical. Full of Gurney’s trademark one-liners and thoughtful insights into families and the conflicts between generations, “The Cocktail Hour” has earned its place as a classic of modern theater.

Boasting a fully professional cast led by two outstanding actors, and directed by Janet Mitchko Schario, TPT’s production has sparkle, fizz and an emotional kick. This production is certain to rank among the highlights of Maine’s 2014-2015 theatrical season.

The stars are the husband-wife team of Michael Genovese and Ellen Crawford, who brilliantly play an elder couple who have to contend with disturbances wrought by their middle-aged son, played by Kyle Knauf, and daughter, played by Beth Hylton.

The son, a publisher and dramatist, has written a play about his own family. It’s both an act of defiance, that brings forth the expected push-back, and a cry for recognition that’s echoed by his sister. The generational conflict works its way through several permutations, with a nice resolution at the denouement.

The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn, 31 Maple St. in Lewiston, presents “The Cocktail Hour” through Oct. 26 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Call 782-3200.

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra

Two of the most popular works in the symphonic literature will be featured this weekend as the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra opens its 25th season with a pair of performances in Lewiston and Topsham.

The overall mood of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 is serene and pleasing. The opening theme features basses and cellos, which are answered by the horns and spiced with woodwinds. These opening moments set the mood for the full symphony, which grows to a glorious conclusion.

When Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 debuted in 1909, the music critic for the New York Times wrote, “The work grows in impressiveness upon acquaintance and will doubtless take rank among the most interesting piano concertos of recent years, although its great length and extreme difficulties bar it from performances by any but pianists of exceptional technical powers.”

One of today’s pianists of exceptional powers is Lisa de la Salle, a 26-year-old French virtuoso who has appeared with major orchestras around the world.

Since 1990, the Midcoast Symphony has been one of Maine’s cultural mainstays. A community orchestra that numbers about 70, the MSO draws members from south of Portland to the Penobscot Bay area. In the past decade, led by maestro Rohan Smith, the MSO has grown in size and artistic stature. I’ve attended many MSO concerts and plan to be part of this 25th season.

Two performances are slated: Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Franco-American Heritage Center (the former St. Mary’s church), 46 Cedar St. in Lewiston, and Oct. 26 at 2:30 p.m. at the Orion Performing Arts Center (in Mt. Ararat Middle School) in Topsham. Call 846-5378.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Portland Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of maestro Robert Moody, will open its 2014-2015 Sunday Classical series on Oct. 26 with a program that includes American, Norwegian and Russian composers.

The PSO’s guest artist will be a pianist who boasts a long and distinguished resume, even though he’s only 20 years old.

Opening the concert will be Jennifer Higdon’s “Fanfare Ritmico,” which was written on the eve of the New Millennium. The composer notes that her fanfare applauds the increasing pace of modern life, and recognizes that each individual’s personal drummer beats to an increasingly rapid tempo.

Higdon writes, “This fanfare celebrates that rhythmic motion, of man and machine, which permeates every moment of our being in the new century.”

Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto represents the Norwegian composer’s most ambitious and most successful foray into large-scale orchestral works, characterized by beautiful themes, distinctive harmonies and brilliant passages for solo piano.

Pianist will be 20-year-old Conrad Tao, who was born in Illinois and currently lives and studies (Columbia and Juilliard) in New York. Tao’s accumulated a long list of top competition prizes as well as performing credits with orchestras and chamber music ensembles.

The final work on the program will be Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 12, a 1961 commemoration of the Russian Revolution. PSO program annotator Mark Rohr comments that Shostakovich had lived through the revolution as a young man, and recognized that communism was a great and historical social and political experiment that had gone dreadfully wrong.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Jazz Workshop

Bassist John Clark has been an active performer on the Maine music scene for over 16 years, playing jazz all over New England plus a long stint with the Bangor Symphony. He has played with many bands in the Portland area, including Darien Brahms and the Munjoy Hill Society, the Bourbonaires, Lars Vegas, the Hi Tides and Linoleum Blownapart.

Recently Clark assembled a Jazz Workshop, which performs the great tunes of Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and the composers of the Blue Note period. The Jazz Workshop, which includes several music professors at Maine colleges, comprises Carl Dimow on flute, Frank Mauceri, Tracy McMullen and Duncan Hardy on saxophones, Glenway Fripp on piano and Peter McLaughlin on drums.

Catch the Jazz Workshop at 8 p.m. Oct. 30 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

Michael Genovese and Ellen Crawford are a real-life husband-wife couple who star in The Public Theatre’s current production, “The Cocktail Hour.”