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Portland Daily Sun

Portland Daily Sun

Theatre Talk

By Michael J. Tobin

Hidden Tennessee

Portland Stage Company

Tennessee Williams is best known for his plays like The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, however, Portland Stage Company has masterfully brought together four of his lesser known works in a show that must be experienced. 

Hidden Tennessee is a production of three short plays and a short story, which bring Williams's stylistic poetism and fragility to the stage. In This Property Is Condemned, a 13-year-old girl reveals intimate details of her squalid life to a young boy with delusional remembrances of things past, as he struggles with a secret he knows about her. Influential poet and author Harold Hart Crane and his mother, Grace, confront each other after years of bitter estrangement in Steps Must Be GentleThe Field of Blue Children deals with the restless emotionality of youth in which the desperate search for identity and companionship can lead to unexpected and troublesome actions. Set in rural Mississippi, The Long Stay Cut Short, or, The Unsatisfactory Supper, explores the loss of dignity that comes with old age. 

Director Sally Wood does a brilliant job with each piece, creating a solid foundation for the actors to bring Williams's words to life. With each piece, Wood takes us on an emotional ride, carving out beautiful pictures and subtle nuances that embrace your imagination and heart. Wood's direction especially shines in This Property Is Condemned, which is worth the price of admission. All four actors in Hidden Tennessee were stellar and created the perfect cast.

All the actors gave of themselves and to each other, creating the perfect blend of ensemble. Sarah Lord's performance as Willie in This Property Is Condemned  was Broadway worthy. I could not take my eyes off Lord, with every sound, every physicality just perfect. Justin Adams played several characters and effortlessly transformed from one to the other. His solid vocal and physical choices enhanced every role. Courtney Moors, sadly scarce in act one, took a strong hold of her stage time in act two, bringing a solid punch to The Long Stay Cut Short, or, The Unsatisfactory Supper. Local favorite, Maureen Butler, gave a powerhouse performance as Grace in Steps Must Be Gentle followed by her heart wrenching portrayal of elderly Aunt Rose in The Long Stay Cut Short, or, The Unsatisfactory Supper

Set designer Anita Stewart has captured all four pieces with ingenious creativity. From the never ending railroad tracks to the magical ocean floor of distorted water, to a uplifted shotgun cabin, Stewart transports us with color and texture. Lighting designer Bryon Winn complimented every moment with the perfect combination of color, focus and intensity. Winn's whispering blue flowers must be experienced. Sound designer Shannon Zura brought just the right balance of content and volume to each piece, rather it be the pounding of an old typewriter or the musical enhancement of a scene. Costume designer Kathleen Brown created an appropriate mix of period costumes, embellishing them with simple accents that complimented Wood's vision. Brown's dress choice for actress Lord in This Property Is Condemned was just perfect and spoke volumes with its layers, color and aging distress. 

Stage manager Myles C. Hatch runs a smooth show with effortless scene changes. It was so nice to see the stage hands costumed, becoming part of the show, adding to the atmosphere, in what can be a thankless job. The entire production is beautifully weaved together as each cast member embodies the symbolic tweed coat and drink of Williams, celebrating his past, present and what would become his future. 

Portland Stage Company, once again, gives us great, professional theater that stimulates, educates and emotionally transports us. Don't miss it!




'Snow Queen' creates a crisp holiday mood

Dec 08, 2011 12:00 am

Michael J. Tobin

Review: "The Snow Queen"/Portland Stage Company

You don't have to dig far beneath the icy surface of Portland Stage Company to experience Hans Christian Andersen's heart-warming fairy tale, which comes to life in an exuberant adaptation by PSC Executive and Artistic Director, Anita Stewart.

First published in 1845, "The Snow Queen" tells seven tales of misadventure between good and evil, when a young boy named Kai is taken away by the mysterious Snow Queen and his best friend Gerda embarks on a perilous journey to rescue him.

Stewart has penned a magical montage that is imaginative, witty and spirited. Stewart's love for this piece is evident, her story-telling talents at their best. Stewart's direction is well-defined, well-paced and full of creativity, from the wonderful 3-D illusions and delightful shadow play puppetry to the real-life images reminiscent of Vladyslav Yerko's illustrations.

There is no question that Tom Ford steals the show with his energetic, multi-characters. Ford's portrayal of the wicked hobgoblin was deliciously evil and his hysterical crow was physically and comedically perfect. Ford, as with all his past PSC performances, embodies each character, making strong and committed choices. Daniel Noel, a local favorite of stage and film, took command of the storytelling with his rich, expressive voice that captivated the audience. Noel's performance as Ba, the reindeer, was a showstopper.

Sally Wood's multiple talents shone brightly, her portrayal of the Robber Girl was worth the price of admission. Wood's chosen facial expressions, physicality and line deliveries were hilarious. Wood has worn many hats at PSC and always delivers with top-notch results. The beautiful Lauren Orkus and local actor Ian Carlsen were perfect in their roles of Kai and Gerda. Their relationship was believable and fun. An underused Patricia Buckley was stunning as the Snow Queen.

The ensemble is divided into two performance groups, white and blue. The blue ensemble performed at the Sunday matinee I attended. The children were a professional, solid support to the adult leads, obviously enjoying themselves as much as we did. Unfortunately, Tommy DiPhilippo as young Kai was hard to hear and understand and the relationship between DiPhilippo and young Gerda, played by Julia Pilk, did not reflect the tight bond established by Carlsen and Orkus.

Favorite moments included the many visual special effects, especially the arrival of the Snow Queen (brilliant), the hilarious Daisys (David Glendinning and Bari Robinson) and my very favorite, the pigeons, who deserved their own bow.

Composer and Musical Director, Hans Indigo Spenser, did a great job creating instrumental atmosphere and fusing Emily Dickinson's poems with Hans Christian Andersen's story. It was nice to hear and understand the singers. Costume designer, Susan Thomas, created fun attire for the entire company with individual characters well defined by suggested costume pieces. The Snow Queen costume was fantastic and actually gave me shivers when Buckley first appeared in it. Anita Stewart designed a multi-use set with lots of surprises. The set painting was Vladyslav Yerko inspired and executed perfectly. Bryon Winn's lighting design was beautifully done, capturing all the elements of each moment in the show. The many projections by Winn were magical, very well done and added so much to the show. Congratulations to Myles C. Hatch for stage managing a very tight show.

The theater lobby was tastefully decorated for the holiday season, and patrons received a warm welcome from my favorite house manager, Gerri Powell and a host of helpful volunteers. Concerning a small issue but an important one, the curtain speech delivered by PSC Trustee David Glendinning was disjointed, hard to hear and understand. I realize and support the importance for the curtain speech but either record it or let someone who can speak professionally and actually get the show title correct (he said, "A Christmas Carol") deliver it. After all, it's that person that represents the theater, its sponsors and sets the tone for the beginning of the show.

Stewart is to be congratulated with a standing ovation for adapting and directing a show that kept the quiet attention of a sold-out audience of mostly very young children. As one little girl exclaimed following the end of act one, "This is awesome."

"The Snow Queen" will warm the hearts of the young and young-at-heart through Dec. 24 at Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave., Portland. For information and reservations, call 774-0465 or go to In the words of fairy tale lovers everywhere, "Snip snap snout" (which means, "The End").

(Michael J. Tobin has been a professional actor, director, theatre administrator and educator for 30 years in theaters throughout New England and around the country. Mr. Tobin has performed and directed in 350-plus shows Off-Broadway, National Tours, Regional Theatre, Summer Stock, Children’s Theatre and Community Theatre. Mr. Tobin lives in South Portland.)

By Michael J. Tobin

'Santaland Diaries' ho, ho horrifyingly funny

In the words of Crumpet, one of Santa's little helpers, "It makes one mouth hurt to speak with such forced merriment". However, the merriment is anything but forced when actor Dustin Tucker takes the stage in, Santaland Diaries, now playing at Portland Stage Company Studio Theater. 

For 75 minutes, larger-than-life actor Tucker captivates the audience with what should be called,"Misery on 34th Street", as he copes with thousands of Macy's shoppers (and their kiddies) with wicked wit written by David Sedaris. With his boyish charm, Tucker mischievously relishes the delicious details and shock effects of Sedaris' naughty true confessions, bringing three-dimensional life to this entertaining, amusing and surprisingly uplifting show. Tucker's animated facial expressions and spot-on physical gestures tell Crumpet's tale with just the right mix of cynicism and bitterness, yet manages to give us a warm glow at the show's end as he surrenders to the season's sentiment. Tucker is versatile, precise and gives a "must see" performance not to be missed.

Director Daniel Burson gave Tucker a solid foundation to build upon, creating perfect pictures to fit each scene in Crumpet's season of hell at Macy's. Burson's transitions were smooth and well defined. Together, Burson and Tucker created perfect timing for the 31 pages of memorized madness, never letting the audience's attention stray any further than the hand that Tucker so masterfully held us in.

Scenic designer, Anita Stewart, gave us a messy, miserable backroom of debris, with its various Macy's posters and scattered paper snowflakes on the floor. Stewart always delivers with detail in her set designs, cleverly shown in Dairies with the uneven table leg that was balanced by the Elfin Guide. Although show appropriate, costume designer Susan Thomas needed to give Crumpet's attire a seasonal facelift, as it looked just a bit too faded and limp. Original lighting design by Matthew Cost and adapted by Shannon Zura was fine, given the limitations of the studio lighting system. Sound choices by Cost worked well, although I found the background music and noise to be more distracting than an enhancement when Tucker was speaking. Stage manager Shane Van Vliet continues to prove why the stage manager is the glue that holds show together. Another excellent job by Van Vliet.

A special mention to Amber Callahan, who designed the colorful and fun lobby decorations. It truly was a wonderful way to start your journey with Crumpet, making you smile and feel like a kid.

Santaland Diaries has become a PSC tradition and, like seasons past, will most likely sell-out, so get your seats early. Tucker's performance is the perfect holiday gift.

Santaland Diaries plays through December 18th. For show schedule, information and to make reservations, go to or call 774-0465. Portland Stage Company Studio Theater is located at 25A Forest Ave, Portland.

'God of Carnage' offers characters we love to hate

"God of Carnage," Portland Stage Company

Opening night of Portland Stage Company's "God of Carnage" proved that "children consume our lives and then destroy them," as play character, Michael Vallon, so deliciously said.

Playwright Yasmina Reza created four multi-layered characters who are well-off, educated and eloquent on the surface, but then she carefully disintegrates their polite social masks with a hilarious war of words, aggressive instincts and destructiveness.

Portland Stage Company continues its 38 seasons of great theater with the Tony Award-winning dramedy, "God of Carnage." This 90-minute one-act unleashes a terrific quartet of performers, disguised as concerned parents of boys who have had a playground altercation. Unfortunately, the art of co-existence is prevailed upon by the gods of violence and chaos, when the parents throw off their well-mannered gloves and enter the playground of real life.

Director Samuel Buggeln does a brilliant job with a very challenging script. With picture perfect blocking, Buggeln takes these apparent caricatures and turns them into multi-personalities that you love to detest.

Kate Udall (Veronique Vallon) creates the perfect storm with her expressions, emotions and physicality. From her littlest nuance to her broader barbaric acts, Udall is a strong force of talent and takes total command of the stage and her character. Kevin Cutts (Michel Vallon) gives a solid foundation for the other actors to play on. Cutts subtle performance explodes into a hilarious misstep of marriage, which he calls "the most terrible ordeal God can inflict on you." The relationship between Cutts and Udall is magic.

Scott Barrow (Alain Reille) brings out the worst in his character (and everyone else) in a very good way. Barrow magnifies all of life's minor annoyances with a major dose of self-serving mastery. Amy Bodnar (Annette Reille) is the queen of facial performances, her hilarious subtexts well expressed. Bodnar is an audience magnet, you can't take your eyes off her many talents. I do have to say that Bodnar's onstage vomiting bit was a highlight not to be missed. Barrow and Bodnar have perfect timing together and are perfectly paired.

Set designer Daniel Zimmerman has created a fantastic playground for adults. With it's well-constructed Danish modern interior and actual sandbox floor, it's a perfect compliment to Reza's play and gives Buggeln and his cast lots to play with. Costumer, Kathleen P. Brown, gave each character a well-fitted look of layers, enabling each actor to, figuratively, shed their outside skin to reveal their more naked selves. Fight choreography by Sally Wood was fun and well executed. I loved the subtle touches that sound designer, Shannon Zura brought to the show. There is no doubt that lighting designer, Philip S. Rosenberg, is a master of his skill but I was confused by some of his lighting design, especially during the latter half of the play. What may have been artistic choices seemed more like technical mistakes. I understood the idea that as the characters began to show themselves in their horrible lights, the stage did too- but it just didn't work for me. Kudos to stage manager, Shane Van Vliet, for running a strong show. Van Vliet makes a very important job seem effortless.

Artistic Director Anita Stewart is to be congratulated for her brave decision to produce lesser-known scripts instead of those tried-and-true titles. This past week, one Maine theater closed its doors and another announced its departure in December. When one theater closes, its impact is huge- when two theaters close, it's detrimental to not only the Arts community but the community as a whole. I urge you to experience "God of Carnage" and all the shows at Portland Stage Company, for their proven excellence in production values and top-notch entertainment for the past 38 seasons. The Arts cannot survive without you, and you cannot survive without the Arts.

"God of Carnage" continues through Nov. 20 at Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave., Portland. For information and tickets go to or call 774-0465.

(Michael J. Tobin has been a professional actor, director, theatre  administrator and educator for 30 years in theaters throughout New  England and around the country. Mr. Tobin has performed and directed in  350-plus shows Off-Broadway, National Tours, Regional Theatre, Summer  Stock, Children’s Theatre and Community Theatre. Mr. Tobin lives in  South Portland.)



'Morini Strad' dazzles theater goer
by Michael J. Tobin
  |  Oct 6, 2011

The Morini Strad, Portland Stage Company

Every so often, if you're lucky, you get to experience a perfect show. On opening night of Portland Stage Company's 38th season, I did. "The Morini Strad" is a brilliant script with a Broadway caliber cast, performing on an amazing set.

Inspired by a true story that rocked the classical music world, concert violinist Erica Morini hires an unassuming violin maker to restore her legendary Stradivarius. Though the aging diva proves to be a challenging client, the two develop an unexpected friendship over the priceless instrument in this imaginative new dramedy about the sacrifices one makes for artistry.

The script by Playwright Willy Holtzman is layered with sharp dialogue, surprising wit and thought provoking inspiration. He writes like a life coach who teaches us lessons about understanding and (dis)trust, reminding us of all the roads not taken and sacrifices made.

Laura Esterman (Erica Morini) and John G. Preston (Brian Skarstad) are flawless. Their chemistry on stage is realistic and believable. The arc of their relationship is very well defined — every word colored perfectly, every physical nuance, subtle or grand, complements their individual and collective performances. Watching these two actors work is like watching a tug-of-war of words.

Violinist, Seoyeon Kim, is a 12-year-old, Falmouth eighth grader who provides exquisite live violin music. Without uttering a word, Ms. Kim's body language speaks volumes.

Director Paul Meshejian gives his actors a solid foundation to build their story on. He takes all the pieces of Holtzman's puzzle and creates a symphony of unpredictable moments and memories in the lives of Morini and Skarstad. The 80-minute emotional roller coaster ride Mr. Meshejian takes us on is humorous, explosive, sad, surprising and riveting. Excellent work!

Set Designer (and Executive Artistic Director) Anita Stewart designed a beautiful set. Its towering walls protecting the reclusive fragility of Morini, yet with a grandness that showcased her talent and personality. Skarstad's shop has all the right details. The transition to Morini's hospital room very clever. The magic Stewart (and lighting designer, Philip S. Rosenberg) created "behind the curtain" was amazing, especially the transition of a young Morini playing in front of the footlights — breathtaking. Mr. Rosenberg enhanced every scene with his pallet of color, shadows and focus. Sound Designer, Christopher Colucci, not only provided the big sounds of violin music, but also the littlest of nuances of background noise that gives the play realism, from dogs barking to the phonograph playing to the dial tone on the phone, great work. The collaboration between set, light and sound is the fourth character in this play and performed perfectly.

A side note: My partner sustained a knee injury this week and was in need of leg room. House Manager, Gerrie Powell, moved our seats to a more comfortable location without hesitation. Ms. Powell's very friendly manner and winning smile is what great patron service is all about.

Portland Stage is, indeed, where great theater lives. Although this may not be a title you recognize, it's well worth turning off your netflicks, wii's and computers and spending some of your entertainment dollars on live theater and on this perfect show. "The Morini Strad" is a must see!

"The Morini Strad" continues through Oct. 23 at Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave., Portland. For tickets or more information call 774-0465 or go to

Michael J. Tobin has been a professional actor, director, theatre administrator and educator for 30 years in theaters throughout New England and around the country. Mr. Tobin has performed and directed in 350-plus shows Off-Broadway, National Tours, Regional Theatre, Summer Stock, Children’s Theatre and Community Theatre. Mr. Tobin lives in South Portland.





Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
by August Wilson
SEP 24 - OCT 20, 2013

by Morris Panych
OCT 29 - NOV 17, 2013

Santaland Diaries
by David Sedaris
Dec 3 - DEC 22, 2013
In the Studio Theater

A Christmas Carol
by Hans Christian Andersen
NOV 29 - DEC 22, 2013

Trouble Is My Business

by Joseph Vass
JAN 21 - FEB 16, 2014

by Tom Coash

FEB 25 - MAR 16, 2014

by Nina Raine
MAR 25 - APR 13, 2014

The Savannah Disputation
by Evan Smith
APR 22 - MAY 18, 2014