Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 2, 2008

Maine In Winter

Maine in the Winter
By Shera Cohen

Why would a person who doesn’t ski take a vacation in Maine in the winter? Well, it’s not crowded with tourists. It’s not even crowded with anyone. For those who like their arts indoors, why not Maine? Museums, theatres, music, and art galleries offer a wealth of cultural pleasure, and so what if you have to wear a coat and hat to get from one attraction to the next.

City Theater in Biddeford is an historic opera house that once presented vaudeville and movies, and now mounts locally produced and touring plays, musical concerts, and comedy improv. Operating year-round, City Theater offers children’s programs, theatre workshops, the works of Rodgers & Hammerstein, and Tennessee Williams.

Not being a cat-lover, it was good public relations that pushed me in the door to see “Spay Misty for Me.” Yes, it was a benefit for an animal welfare society. This evening of improv was a near-copy of Drew Carey’s “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?” Ten young actors were given the start of slim scripts to flesh out, often with prompts from the audience. The show was exactly what you would expect it to be – lots of laughs, some skits funnier than others, a little bit “R” rated, and people getting drenched with water (including those seated in the front row).

From the ridiculous to the sublime was the world premiere of “Longfellow: A Life in Words” at the Portland Stage Company. The theatre has two stages – the main stage for its major productions and an intimate 60-seat theatre for the Studio Series plays. At some point in high school or college pretty much everyone had to read, analyze, and perhaps memorize a Longfellow poem. You know, the man who wrote “The Song of Hiawatha.” Ahh, I remember it well. Little did I know that Longfellow lived in Portland.

Performed by the play’s author Daniel Noel, the three-member cast in this long one-act brought Longfellow to life. Noel did his homework, weaving words from the poet’s memoirs and correspondence with the poetry. In celebration of bicentennial of the poet’s birth, Longfellow surely looked down on this production with a smile. While Noel had the brunt of the work in the lead role, the two other actors took on the characters of at least a dozen each. I had the good luck to speak to Noel following the show. The man was as humble as the man he portrayed. His plan was to flesh out the story to become a two-act play. His hope was to tour with it. I have no doubt that this talented actor/writer can spread the poignant and beautiful words of Longfellow.

A visit to the Portland Museum of Art was not what I expected. Actually, it exceeded my expectations. While I don’t know when the museum was built, it wasn’t long ago. Yet, needless to say, its art spanned the decades and centuries, genres, and continents. Works by my favorites lined the walls – John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatte. A large exhibit was dedicated to Winslow Homer. Looking at the pieces, one realizes why they laud “the rocky cliffs of Maine.” This touring exhibit was “Both Sides of the Camera”; the photography of father and daughter Irving Ellis and Judith Glickman. This was yet another premiere, as it was the first public showing of 132 works from the collection of both artists. Running the gamut of people, places, and things beginning in the 1930s, there was no doubt of Ellis’ talent passed onto his child.

The McLellan House, a huge extension of an actual home, as “attached” at the rear. The grandeur of years ago, coupled with exquisite sculpture and paintings, made this a museum within a museum. Yet there was even more to the Portland Museum, as this happened to be Jazz Sunday. The large café area was chock full of people of all ages, nibbling on muffins or fruit, reading the newspaper, and enjoying the Dixieland-style music. The atmosphere was friendly for residents and tourists alike. Although, I might have been the only tourist.