September 19, 2013

Matters of race open Portland theater season

Portland Stage presents 'Ma Rainey' and Good Theater stages 'Clybourne Park,' both by Pulitzer Prize winners.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

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Tina Fabrique is Ma Rainey and Nyahale Allie is Dussie Mae in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

Darren Setlow photo courtesy of Portland Stage Company

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During her time at Yale School of Drama in the late 1980s, Stewart got to know Wilson personally. He was dating a friend, Constanza Romero, a costume designer. Stewart spent "a fair amount of time with him" and became a friend.

Above all else, Wilson was passionate about language, and the way he weaved his stories together distinguishes him and his work, Stewart said. "He loved words. He loved stories, and he loved dialogue."

Stewart hired Jade King Carroll to direct the play. She is freelance director and dramaturge based in New York.

Carroll is also friends with Wilson's widow, and in 2010 was presented with the Paul Green Award for Outstanding Emerging Theater Professional from the National Theatre Conference and the Estate of August Wilson.

She hopes audiences leave the theater engaged in conversation about what they've experienced. "I'd love for them to see a world they don't have a chance to see," she said.

"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" previews at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Sept. 26, opens at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27, and continues through Oct. 17. $35 to $45. 774-0465;

AT GOOD THEATER, artistic director Brian Allen chose to open the season with "Clybourne Park" because "it's one of the best scripts we've ever done. It's such a sharp piece of writing."

It's actually two shows in one, focused on a single home in Chicago. In Act I it's 1959, and a white couple is preparing to sell the house to a black family. The neighborhood objects, concerned about the effect of a black family moving in.

In Act II, the same house is on the market 50 years later. By this time, the neighborhood is predominantly black, and the house is being sold to a white family that intends to tear it down and build something bigger. Neighbors object, because they want to preserve the history and integrity of the neighborhood.

Allen has a cast of seven, each of whom plays two characters: Stephen Underwood, Amy Roche, Mark Rubin, Noelle LuSane, Lucas O'Neil, Bari Robinson and Sally Wood. Allen directs.

Playwright Bruce Norris won both the Pulitzer and Tony for this show, and it is being widely produced across America. Allen wanted to open the Good Theater season with it to start a conversation about gentrification and racism.

"It's just a very interesting time to do this show right now in Portland," he said. "A lot of the issues raised in this play are issues that people in Portland are dealing with right now. It's very timely and topical."

"Clybourne Park" opens Oct. 2 and runs through Oct. 27 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St., Portland. $20 to $28. 885-5885;

MAD HORSE THEATRE COMPANY opens its 28th season with the Maine premiere of David Ives' "The School for Lies," inspired by Moliere's "The Misanthrope." A French farce set in 1966, it's smart and funny, cunning and witty, said Mad Horse artistic director Christine Louise Marshall.

"It just jumps right off the page," she said in a statement. "David Ives' language has such musicality that it's incredibly easy on the ears, while at the same time so smart and funny. But it requires a very smart cast as well to really make the rhythm sing. We absolutely have that cast. It's a terrific season opener."

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Additional Photos

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Harvy Blanks (Cutler), Ray Anthony Thomas (Slow Drag) and Warner Miller (Levee) in a scene from the play.

Darren Setlow photo courtesy of Portland Stage Company

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Tina Fabrique as Ma Rainey enjoys a light moment during the recording session that’s the setting for Portland Stage’s production of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

Darren Setlow photo courtesy of Portland Stage Company

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Mad Horse Theatre Company members Burke Brimmer and Janice Gardner star in “The School for Lies.”

James Hoban photo courtesy of Mad Horse Theatre Company

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Noelle LuSane is among a cast of seven in Good Theater’s “Clybourne Park.”

Photo courtesy of Good Theater

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Lucas O’Neil, Good Theater’s “Clybourne Park.”

Photo courtesy of Good Theater

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Bari Robinson, Good Theater’s “Clybourne Park.”

Photo courtesy of Good Theater

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