Portland Stage Company offers innovative theater (39880)
Portland Stage Company offers innovative theater (39879)
Portland Stage Company offers innovative theater (39878)
Portland Stage Company offers innovative theater (39877)

The Portland Stage Company is a revered product that boasts the catchphrase: “Made in Maine.” Located at 25A Forest Ave. in Portland, Maine, the distinguished company was founded in 1974 as the Profile Theatre. Four years later, in 1978, its name was officially changed to the Portland Stage Company.

Heralded for its quality productions, today it is considered the leading professional theater company in northern New England, boasting productions of over 305 plays, including 40 world premieres. Among these are an astounding group of plays by South African playwright Athol Fugard, including “A Lesson from Aloes” (1982/83), “Master Harold and the Boys” (1985/86, 2009/10), “Sizwe Bansi is Dead” and “The Island” (1989/90), “My Children, My Africa” (1990/91) and “The Road to Mecca” (1999/2000).

Some of the company’s other productions include “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989/90), “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” (1990/91), “From the Mississippi Delta” (1995/96), “Spunk” (1997/98), “Having Our Say” (1998/99), “Blues for an Alabama Sky” (1999/2000) and August Wilson’s “Fences” (2002/03) and “The Piano Lesson” (2007/08).

The current Portland Stage season, which is sponsored by L.L. Bean, Maine Home Design and Maine magazine, opened in September with the Willy Holtzman hit, “The Morini Strad,” which closed on Oct. 23. The other productions scheduled for the season are “God of Carnage,” by Yasmina Reza (Nov. 1-20); Raymond Chandler’s “Trouble is My Business,” adapted by James Glossman (Jan. 24-Feb. 19); “Hidden Tennessee,” by Tennessee Williams (Feb. 28-March 18); “Heroes,” by Gerald Sibleyras, adapted by Tom Stoppard (March 27-Apr. 22); and “Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh,” by Joel Gross (May 1-20). By popular demand, “2 Pianos 4 Hands,” which ran last season, will return to the main stage from June 1 to July 1.

In addition, they will be performing two holiday specials: “The Snow Queen,” by Hans Christian Andersen, which will run Dec. 2-24, and “The Santaland Diaries,” by David Sedaris, which will take place in the Studio Theater Nov. 25-Dec. 18.

For tickets to these productions, call (207) 774-0465 or visit www.portlandstage.org.

Beginning in 1980, Portland Stage has offered student matinees of every show in its mainstage season. Currently, over 6,500 students from Maine and New Hampshire annually attend these educational performances, which are supported through annual individual and business donations as well as with funding from the Helen and George Ladd Charitable Foundations.

“The Morini Strad,” this season’s first production, received additional sponsorship from MacDonald Page & Co. and L.L. Bean for various outreach tools, including the publication Playnotes, which provided information, interviews and commentaries as well as a playwright biography for students.

On Thursday, Oct. 20, I had the pleasure of attending Portland Stage’s mainstage production of “The Morini Strad,” and what a treat! There were no tricks here, just really great theater. Inspired by an incident in the real-life story of concert violinist Erica Morini, a child prodigy who played for Vienna’s Emperor Franz Joseph when she was 5, was accepted into the Vienna Conservatory at 8 and made her debut at the age of 16 in America at Carnegie Hall, the play takes place in the latter, declining years of the diva’s life.

Set in Manhattan on upper Fifth Avenue in “the recent past,” the 90-minute drama, sweetly sprinkled with great wit, starred Laura Esterman, who was riveting as Morini, and John G. Preston, who was brilliant as Brian Skarstad, a humble violin maker. The talented 12-year-old Seoyeon Kim was a joy to behold and listen to as the Violinist.

Fate brings together Morini and Skarstad when he is summoned to restore the legendary virtuoso violinist’s Stradivarius. However, this is more than just a mere meeting, it is a rendezvous with destiny in the diva’s declining years and Skarstad’s prime. Each has something to offer the other-something they must learn in this transition period in their lives.

At the crux of their coming together is their perception of themselves. Morini thinks of herself as a gifted artist; Skarstad sees himself as an artisan. Morini has sacrificed her childhood and adulthood to pursue her art, a choice that resulted in her reaching the pinnacle of success in her career. Now as an elder she is alone except for her prized Stradivarius, her desire for marmalade and her love of dancing.

Skarstad, on the other hand, is married with a family, a dog and a job as a violin repairman. Yet, deep within himself lies his desire is to make his own line of violins. Where they are presently in their lives stems from life’s cyclical journey and the choices they have made.

As Holzman ingenuously draws the audience into their lively, multilayered encounter, as hooked voyeurs of this experience we are also forced to examine our own life choices every step of the way.

Thoughtfully directed by Paul Meshejian, he achieved his goal as written in the Portland Stage Playnotes (Season 38, Issue 1). “If we do our job in the theater, the audiences will make connections with the characters and story through identification and empathy. I’m interested in theater that allows for that empathy, and I hope this play and this production offers audiences that opportunity.”

“The Morini Strad” does offer the audience that opportunity. It is a well-played tune. New York will have the chance to see this gem from Portland Stage when it arrives in the city for a spring 2012 run.

And with the close of the curtain, Casting Pearls Awards are presented to Esterman, Preston and Kim. Bravo! Bravo!

Casting Pearls Awards are also presented to Holtzman, Meshejian and Portland Stage. Bravo!

Additional note: The evening’s bonus were the passionate mixed media paintings of visual artist Daniel Minter on view in the Portland Stage theater lobby.

The Casting Pearls series pays tribute to the great talent of stage and film and presenting institutions.