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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: June 12, 2017

PortFringe, ‘Ulysses’ and Hackmatack are on stage this weekend

Written by: Bob Keyes
Actors Barton Wright and Blaine Pickett in the 1972 production of "The Fantasticks" at the Hackmatack Playhouse during the theater's first season. The play will close the 2017 season, 45 years later. Photo courtesy of Hackmatack Playhouse

Actors Barton Wright and Blaine Pickett in the 1972 production of “The Fantasticks” at the Hackmatack Playhouse during the theater’s first season. The play will close the 2017 season, 45 years later.
Photo courtesy of Hackmatack Playhouse

Every weekend is a good weekend for theater in Portland these days, and this weekend, that’s especially true. Two of the most anticipated events of the spring are on the schedule: PortFringe opens Saturday, kicking off more than 100 performances on stages across Portland’s Arts District over the course of a week, and the American Irish Repertory Ensemble stages a Bloomsday celebration on Friday at the Irish Heritage Center, in honor of Irish writer James Joyce.

Further to the south, Hackmatack Playhouse in Berwick begins its 45th-anniversary season on Friday with “She Loves Me,” a 1930s musical that runs through July 1.

PortFringe is in its sixth year in Portland, offering edgy, experimental theater. The PortFringe 2017 lineup includes original plays, experimental works, multimedia performances, dance, comedy and musical theater. More than 40 individuals and companies will present more than 125 shows during the week, said festival volunteer Mariah Bergeron.

PortFringe shows are all one hour or less with staggered start times to allow people to see multiple shows.

 Bergeron called PortFringe “Portland’s best-kept secret,” although the festival has done a good job attracting crowds to its performances. “The festival showcases an enormous number of local and national performances, hidden in rock clubs, tiny stages, and historic buildings,” Bergeron said in a press release.

Proceeds from ticket sales go back to the artists. Last year, the festival generated about $30,000 in ticket sales for the performers. That allows theater artists to push the boundaries to create challenging and non-mainstream shows. “We encourage grit, risk, and sweat,” Bergeron said.

The festival began in Portland in 2012 and has become a spring highlight with performances at the Portland Stage studio and storefront theaters, Geno’s Rock Club, Empire, Bright Star World Dance and the Mechanics Hall. The festival’s headquarters are at Portland Stage.

PortFringe artists come from around Maine and across the country. Many are on the fringe festival circuit, performing at similar festivals around the country. PortFringe is a member of the U.S. and Canadian Associations of Fringe Festivals.

It continues with performances through June 24.

TO MARK THE BIRTH of Irish writer James Joyce, the American Irish Repertory Ensemble, or AIRE, stages its always-rollicking “Ulysses for Beginners,” which uses scenes, songs and humor to explain the storyline of the monster novel “Ulysses.” AIRE co-founder Tony Reilly and his crew lead the audience through the intricacies of what some people consider the greatest book ever written, with Irish wit and irreverence.

The performance begins at 7 p.m. Friday at the Irish Heritage Center at the corner of State and Gray streets in Portland, and it’s free.

“Ulysses” tells the story of Leopold Bloom of Dublin in the course of an ordinary day – June 16, 1904. Festive and period attire is encouraged for people who attend Friday’s performance.

IN BERWICK, HACKMATACK opens its season on Friday with “She Loves Me,” directed by Danielle Howard of Dover, New Hampshire, who last worked at the theater 15 years ago. When she heard Hackmatack was producing the musical, she called to ask if she could direct. “I adore that show,” she said. “It has wonderful characters, a gorgeous score, and there aren’t a lot of classic romantic comedies.”

“She Loves Me” was nominated for five Tony Awards in 1964. A 1993 revival won the Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Musical and the 1994 Critics Circle Award for Best Musical. It had another Broadway revival in 2016.

Theater owner Michael Guptill called it “a touching romance with old world elegance.”

Other shows in the season are “Buddy, the Buddy Holly story,” opening July 5; “Steel Magnolia,” opening July 26; and “The Fantasticks,” opening Aug. 16.

“She Loves Me” opened in Greenwich Village in 1960 and was off-Broadway’s longest-running musical when it closed in 2015. Hackmatack last staged the musical 45 years ago, when the theater was just starting out.


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