Theater at Monmouth season offers laughter and tears

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MONMOUTH — Theater at Monmouth  opens its 44th season of performances at historic Cumston Hall with a rollicking Elizabethan comedy. It’s part of a summer-long schedule that’s chock full of comedy and drama, and even a one-night dose of Beatlemania midway through the season.
With an interesting twist in keeping with its designation as “The Shakespearean Theater of Maine,” TAM’s producing artistic director Dawn McAndrews is presenting “The Knight of the Burning Pestle” by Francis Beaumont. The play, as well as others on the schedule, are performed in repertoire, so theater-goers can pick dates of the shows for convenience and variety.
Other shows at TAM will be Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” Thornton Wilder’s American Classic “Our Town” and “The Year of Magical Thinking,” Joan Didion’s autobiographical memoir.
“The Knight of the Burning Pestle” opens Thursday, July 4, with a preview performance priced at just $10 a ticket for everyone. “Monmouth Nights” offers that bargain to Monmouth residents on Thursdays throughout the season, but Jay Shepherd, TAM spokesperson, said, “Everyone is a Monmouth resident on July 4.”
Shepherd said two shows by Shakespeare are normally presented each year, but “The Taming of the Shrew” is the bard’s single contribution to this season. “The Knight of the Burning Pestle,” a comedy written by a contemporary of Shakespeare, marks the first time an Elizabethan play other than Shakespeare’s have been done at TAM.
“Audiences will see a play the way Shakespeare would have seen one,” Shepherd explained. “It’s a play within a play, and almost immediately the fourth wall is broken and the audience becomes part of the action, with viewers constantly finding their viewpoints switching back and forth.
Directed by Patrick Flick, the show is loaded with laughter, song and silly antics in celebration of the way Elizabethan audiences expected to be entertained.
“The Taming of the Shrew” opens July 12, and it is directed by Sally Wood. In this popular play, Shakespeare gives us the improbable courtship of the fiery-tongued Katherine by the arrogant Petruchio. The play is filled with disguise, deception, and rough-and-tumble devilment, as well as the taming of not one but two shrewish lovers fighting to maintain control and independence.
“Our Town,” opening July 19, and directed by Davis Robinson, celebrates this classic play’s 75 anniversary and this is most likely the only New England production.
Shepherd said Robinson’s direction does not “shy away from the bitter-sweetness” of the play.
“This is probably the most honest show that we will do this year,” she said. Mark S. Cartier, popular TAM veteran of 17 years, plays the Stage Manager who invites us to the mythical Grover’s Corners. It’s a timeless tale of the universal experience of being human.
“The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion opens July 26. Directed by Dawn McAndrews, Didion’s play presents a life-affirming approach to the grief experienced after the death of a loved one. TAM favorite Janis Stevens portrays Joan Didion in this emotional journey to acceptance.
TAM’s show for kids this summer is “The Velveteen Rabbit,” Margery Williams’ classic adapted by Dawn McAndrews and directed by Brooke Edwards. Its afternoon performances run through Aug. 15, mostly on Saturdays and on a few other days. TAM’s fall show will be Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Patience,” Sept.
19-30. This operetta will be directed by Bill Van Horn.
“Beatles: The Studio Years 1967-70 with Mark S. Cartier” is a one-time presentation on July 30. It’s a follow-up presentation to last season’s “The Beatlemania Years.”
Another one-night show is “Tribute to Jazz Sirens” featuring the Marcia Gallagher Quartet on Aug. 8. Marcia Gallagher, vocalist/ pianist, honors such greats as Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Nina Simone and Lena Horne.
TAM’s offerings also includes “Write On! Student Playwright Festival” Aug. 15.

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