Four new works will be stage-read as part of Portland Stage Company's 9th annual "Little Festival of the Unexpected," Apr. 29-May 2. The Maine theatre will hold post-show discussions, another manifestation of its goal of "nuturing artists, invigorating audiences, and exploring the variety and depth of theatricality [with] new voices, new visions and new forms of theatre."
Three plays will receive staged readings: A Bicycle Country, by Nilo Cruz, Manifest by Brian Silberman, and The Shaneequa Chronicles by Stephanie Berry. Leaving Queens, a musical by Kate Moira Ryan (book & lyrics) and Kim D. Sherman (music), will also get an in-progress staging.
Bicycle Country tells of a convalescent and his caretaker who share a small raft as they escape Cuba for America. Cruz's other plays include A Park In Our House, which played at NJ's McCarter Theatre.
Manifest tells a quartet of Holocaust stories, all set in Auschwitz/Birkenau. The piece, "a theatrical vaudeville using humor, music, dance and spectacle," has segments on Dr. Mengele's children and a plot to destroy the crematoria. Author Silberman's other plays include Dustbreeding and Ambivalent North.
A solo about a woman coming to terms with her sexuality, The Shaneequa Chronicles stars author Berry, who appeared in Spunk at Portland Stage. Leaving Queens studies four generations of an Irish-American family. Author Ryan also penned the play Hadley's Mistake; composer Sherman wrote the music for Heart Land (soon to be at CT's Goodspeed) and worked with Darrah Cloud on O Pioneers!.
Previous Little Festival entrants included As Bees In Honey Drown (1996) and Blown Sideways Through Life (1993).
For tickets ($5/show; $15 for all 4) and information on this season's Little Festival of the Unexpected at the Portland Performing Arts Center, 25A Forest Ave., call (207) 774-0465. Currently on the mainstage is Donald Margulies' drama with music, The Loman Family Picnic.
In other PSC news, beginning May 1, Anita Stewart will take over the artistic directorship of Portland Stage Company, a position she has shared since June 1996 with Christopher Akerlind. The latter will take on an advisory role and sometimes return to do lighting design.
"My career as a designer requires more and more of my time and energy away from Portland," said Akerlind. "The theatre will function more effectively with one artistic director."
For her part, Stewart said, "I will continue working closely with Chris [Akerlind] on artistic decisions. The new role allows Portland Stage to hold onto Chris' strengths while encouraging him to develop as a lighting designer." Akerlind was a Tony nominee for Broadway's Seven Guitars.
Under Akerlind and Stewart's co-governance, Portland Stage expanded its community outreach and became more active in local school workshop programs.
-- By David Lefkowitz