Things will be different at Mad Horse Theatre Company this season – and at Cape Elizabeth High School.
Christine Louise Marshall, who served as artistic director of Mad Horse since 2008, has left the position and is leading the theater department at the school, replacing the long-tenured and widely loved Richard Mullen.
In her place, Mad Horse company members Mark Rubin and Nick Schroeder are splitting the job, with Rubin serving as artistic director and Schroeder as executive director. Also new this year, Mad Horse is expanding its season from four shows to five.
The season begins this week, with the opening of Julia Cho’s “The Language Archive,” directed by Christopher Price. It’s a play about a linguist who has communication problems in whatever language he speaks. He’s good with words, except his own, and can’t find the right words to keep his wife from leaving him. At its heart, “The Language Archive” is about the struggle to listen and be heard.
The cast includes company members Rubin, Marie Stewart Harmon and Tootie Van Reenen, with guest artists Mary Fraser and Payne Ratner.
The play received the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 2010. The prize recognizes women who have written “works of outstanding quality” for the English-speaking theater, according to its website.
In a press release, Price said, “The obvious irony of a linguist who can’t express his feelings is central to this play but at its core, I believe that it’s less a love story than a deliberation on love itself – what it means to love in all its ramifications; joy, sadness, frustration, holding close, letting go. Words often fail us because language and communication are not synonymous. I think Julia Cho writes with great honesty, tenderness and poignancy and the courage to explore the difficulties of being present and heard by those we’re closest to. While pensive, funny and sometimes melancholic, it’s ultimately affirming and a pleasure to work on.”
Schroeder, who has been a Mad Horse company member since 2014, said the expanded season gives the theater company a chance to reach more people and broaden its scope. “We want to improve our accessibility and our reach,” he said.
Mad Horse is unique in the local theater scene in that it operates as a collective of members – actors, directors and other theater artists – who work on each show together, along with invited guests, creating show-to-show consistency and an overall style and aesthetic. Most theater companies hire different casts for each show.
Rubin compared the Mad Horse approach to a small jazz ensemble. “The members of a jazz quartet really know each other, and they know how to play off one another,” Rubin said. “When you work collaboratively over the years, it allows for more interesting work. You are in a zone with the other actors on stage, and you can play off of each other back and forth, just as jazz musicians do, within a context and framework.”
He joined the company in 2013.
The season’s thematic arc is about communication – beginning with “The Language Archive” – the limits of communication, how we talk to one and how we listen. The other shows are “The Whale,” “Deer,” “Life Sucks” and “The Tomb of King Tot.” To some degree, all deal with communication issues. In “The Whale,” an English teacher connects with his daughter through “Moby-Dick.” In the dark comedy “The Deer,” a dysfunctional husband and wife recognize their breaking point when they hit a deer with their car while going away for the weekend. “Life Sucks” is about unrequited love, where what is said between people is not always what is meant. And “The Tomb of King Tot” tells the story of a cartoonist who learns to grieve the loss of family member through her human interactions.
“How we communicate and how we listen have enormous impact in our existence and how we get along in our lives,” Rubin said. “It was not our intention to have a season revolving around communication, but it worked out that way.”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday; through Oct. 7
WHERE: Mad Horse Theatre, Hutchins School, 24 Mosher St., South Portland
HOW MUCH: $23 adults, $20 seniors and students, pay what you can Thursday, Sunday and Sept. 27
INFO: (207) 747-4148, madhorse.com