There’s an interesting mix of theater and music in this week’s arts and entertainment calendar.
My top choice, and one of the most intriguing choices of the year, is “Mama’s Boy” at Portland’s Good Theater. It’s a world premiere, and the subject is the backstory behind the troubled man who assassinated President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
VentiCordi, a classical ensemble that blends wind instruments with strings, will give a concert of seldom-performed modern music this Sunday in Portland.
On Nov. 10 the Portland Symphony Orchestra will team up with Portland Ballet in an unusual program based on terpsichorean themes.
Good Theater, the resident thespian troupe at the St. Lawrence Arts Center in Portland, is often the place to see the Maine or New England premiere of new plays. Last weekend artistic director Brian P. Allen did one better: His company opened the world premiere of a major new play.
Penned by Rob Urbinati, “Mama’s Boy” is the backstory behind Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1963, and his dysfunctional family. Much of the factual background material comes from Steven Beschloss’ book, “The Gunman and His Mother: Lee Harvey Oswald, Marguerite Oswald and the Making of an Assassin.”
Besides Lee Harvey Oswald and his mother, there are two other characters: brother Robert Oswald and Marina Oswald, the assassin’s Russian-born wife. With great craftsmanship, Urbinati tells a fascinating story with a time frame that begins a few months before the assassination and ends a few years later.
Despite the audience’s entirely natural morbid fascination with Lee Harvey, the central character in Urbinati’s telling is Marguerite, a dominating woman who craves a family – as she tells us time after time – yet is so repugnant and abusive that she repels everyone who comes into her orbit. Her first two sons escaped her grasp as soon as they could, leaving Marguerite to desperately try to hold Lee Harvey, her youngest, in her emotional tentacles.
This is a muscular dramatic work that alternatively leaves the audience chuckling or gasping. Much of its power comes from Betsy Aidem’s standout portrayal of Marguerite. Rude, bossy and loathsome, but possessing a few redeeming features, Aidem truly owns this character.
I also liked Graham Emmons as Lee Harvey, effectively portrayed as a man who is emotionally and intellectually adrift and tragically disconnected from reality. Also noteworthy are Laurel Casillo as Marina, a foreign woman caught up in family turmoil that she cannot comprehend, and Erik Moody, as Robert, who represents an island of stability who constantly struggles to find his way through an emotional minefield.
Good Theater presents “Mama’s Boy” through Nov. 22 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) with Wednesday and Thursday performances at 7 p.m., Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Call Good Theater at 885-5883.
My vote for the most interesting chamber music ensemble in recent years in Maine goes to VentiCordi, the partnership of violinist Dean Stein and oboist Kathleen McNerney. The made-up word itself is a portmanteau that combines Latin roots for winds and strings, and it is central the the duo’s idea of exploring the boundaries of chamber music.
Since there are few compositions that are written for the pairing of violin and oboe, Stein and McNerney typically hook up with other partners and pick a program that fits their overall concept. Since their concept is rather novel, the programs are quite interesting and unusual.
This Sunday, VentiCordi appears on the Portland String Quartet’s subscription series in a program titled “Fragments of Sound.” Partners for this concert are cellist Andrew Mark, clarinetist Kristen Finkbeiner and pianist Bridget Convey. (Stein and Mark are members of the Portland String Quartet.)
The program is entirely modern pieces, and some of the composers represent the epitome of the 20th century. These include Arnold Schoenberg, Aram Khachaturian and Bohuslav Martinu, all of whom have achieved some degree of popularity among aficionados of classical music. Two others, Robert Muczynski and Reinhold Gliere, are far less known.
The title of the concert is inspired by the Schoenberg piece, which represents fragments of a larger work that was never completed. The fragments, about 150 measures total, were written in 1905, but the performance version used today was completed in 1966 after the composer’s death by Friedrich Cerha, a Schoenberg scholar and conductor. It is the only piece on Sunday’s program where all five musicians play together.
Catch VentiCordi at 2 p.m. Nov. 8 at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Call the LARK Society at 761-1522.
Unusual and intriguing are also the twin themes that inspire the next concert on the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s Tuesday Classical series. Another common element is dance.
The PSO, under the baton of maestro Robert Moody, will be joined by soprano soloist Margaret Carpenter Haigh and members of Portland Ballet, under the leadership of choreographer Roberto Forleo.
The concert opens with Sergei Prokofiev’s Suite No. 1, which is an orchestral version of his “Cinderella” ballet, which was composed at different times in the 1940s. The ballet has 50 musical scenes, and many from the first two acts were woven into Suite No. 1.
The middle piece on the program is strictly classical: Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 69, which begins with a martial themes, segues into delicate passages and is filled throughout with the composer’s famous little musical jokes and surprises.
David Del Tredici is a contemporary composer who lives and teaches in New York. He is one of the best-known modern composers, winning the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1980.
Del Tredici wrote “An Alice Symphony” in 1969, based largely on texts from Lewis Carroll’s famous “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
Del Tredici has explained that the over-arching concept of his symphony is a musical adventure in three parts. The opening begins in pedestrian reality, then moves through a musical rabbit hole into a world where everything appears to be askew, then finally returns to dull reality. The middle section is by far the longest, and includes several specific scenes from Carroll’s classic novella.
I expect that Forleo’s small troupe of professional dancers will find much creative inspiration in “An Alice Symphony.”
Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra on Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.
The world premiere of “Mama’s Boy,” the current offering at Portland’s Good Theater, concerns the troubled relationship between Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated President John F. Kennedy in 1963, and his dysfunctional family.