Legalities can seem cut and dried until a creative legal mind comes along to introduce subtleties that blow up the status quo.

That doesn’t sound like something to go unchallenged, and Portland Stage’s presentation of “Ben Butler” by Richard Strand, a true story of runaway slave Shepard Mallory, who demands sanctuary from the Union Army, demonstrates how history-making (and entertaining) it can be.

“Ben Butler” playwright Richard Strand

General Benjamin Butler (a real-life 1838 Colby College graduate) sets his sharp mind to work out the moral quandaries presented not just by the law and Mallory’s predicament, but also Mallory’s own sharp mind and wit. The play, opening Sept. 25, has been optioned for a Broadway run in New York, so Portland Stage is lucky to be able to produce it, said artistic director Anita Stewart.

It’s a work that’s been on her radar screen for several years because of its smarts and fast pace, and because Stewart, who is also a set designer, knew it would work well in the company’s space and for its audience, she said by email. “I love that it is based on an historical event, that it surrounds a man who has Maine connections … and who himself was larger than life,” she said. “It explores how we view the world and how, ultimately, the law is about interpretation.” The show runs through Oct. 21 at 25A Forest Ave. in Portland.

There’s yet more open to interpretation as Mad Horse Theatre Company’s season launches Sept. 20 with “The Language Archive,” a contemplation of human interaction. Playwright Julia Cho wields her love of words in her story of linguist scholar George, who is passionate about preserving languages but struggles to communicate with his wife and, possibly, himself. The show runs through Oct. 7 at 24 Mosher St. in South Portland.

As crisp fall days darken ever more, many theaters are known to stage a fright. Portland Stage is reprising its enchanting “Haunting Hour” show, curated and directed by Dustin Tucker and running for 10 performances starting Oct. 24 in the company’s black box Studio Theater, also at 25A Forest Ave., Portland.

Footlights Theatre in Falmouth anticipates Halloween with both fright and farce with “Some Words with a Mummy,” a comic opera based on the satire of the same title by Edgar Allen Poe (his only intentionally humorous story). Set in 1850, two learned men get quite a few shocks when they poke and prod an ancient mummy. Hijinks ensue with the help of music by Richard deCosta and lyrics by Thomas Cleveland Lane. This show runs Oct. 4-20 at 190 Route 1.

Another challenge to audiences to reconsider how they think will be found in Good Theater’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” showing Oct. 3-28. Based on the novel by Mark Haddon, adapted by Simon Stephens and directed in this Portland premiere by Good Theater artistic director Brian P. Allen, the show grabbed five Tony Awards in 2015, including best play. It will be in residence at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St., Portland.

And in good news for fans of Dramatic Repertory, from Nov. 9-18, the company is staging “The Cockfight Play” (not its primary title, but a family-newspaper-friendly placeholder), almost three years to the day after first planning its debut. Dramatic Rep went on a two-year hiatus after artistic director Keith Powell Beyland suffered a stroke, but he returned last year to oversee the company’s comeback with a full slate of shows.

Beyland is directing “The Cockfight Play,” a deft, tense and emotional drama, written by British playwright Mike Bartlett, that takes on sexual identity and a plain, old-fashioned love triangle. The play stipulates no costumes, props or pantomime, which Beyland says throws a spotlight on the drama of every scene. “Bartlett writes language plays,” he said in an email three years ago, anticipating the opening. “They fizz and crackle as they unfold. It will be unlike any show you have ever seen.” It will be presented at Portland Stage’s Studio Theater on Forest Avenue.

Daphne Howland is a freelance writer based in Portland.


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