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Entertainment Highlights: Theater Doesn’t Take a Summer Break

  • From left, Cindy Johnson as Mrs. Elvsted, Katrina Ferguson as Hedda Gabler and Milan Dragicevich as Eilert Louborg rehearse a scene from Northern New England Repertory Theater Company’s production of Hedda Gabler. The show opens May 30 at Colby-Sawyer College. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    From left, Cindy Johnson as Mrs. Elvsted, Katrina Ferguson as Hedda Gabler and Milan Dragicevich as Eilert Louborg rehearse a scene from Northern New England Repertory Theater Company’s production of Hedda Gabler. The show opens May 30 at Colby-Sawyer College. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Director Trace Oakley gives notes to actors during a rehearsal for Northern New England Repertory Theater Company’s upcoming production of Hedda Gabler. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Director Trace Oakley gives notes to actors during a rehearsal for Northern New England Repertory Theater Company’s upcoming production of Hedda Gabler. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • From left, Cindy Johnson as Mrs. Elvsted, Katrina Ferguson as Hedda Gabler and Milan Dragicevich as Eilert Louborg rehearse a scene from Northern New England Repertory Theater Company’s production of Hedda Gabler. The show opens May 30 at Colby-Sawyer College. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Director Trace Oakley gives notes to actors during a rehearsal for Northern New England Repertory Theater Company’s upcoming production of Hedda Gabler. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

While Enfield’s Shaker Bridge Theatre wrapped up its sixth season earlier this month, and Northern Stage concluded its 16th season Sunday, Upper Valley theatergoers needn’t twiddle their thumbs waiting for those companies to return in the fall. Three theater groups are starting the summer season with shows that cater to the area’s diverse audience, whether they prefer the pointed social commentary and humor found in the works of playwright David Ives, a classic work from one of history’s most celebrated playwrights, or a lighthearted evening of musical theater.

First up: the Parish Players’ “An Evening of David Ives” opens tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. at the Eclipse Grange Theater in Thetford. Next week will see the premiere of Hedda Gabler, the lone show in Northern New England Repertory Theatre Co,mpany’s season, at Colby-Sawyer College in New London. And a New London institution, the Barn Playhouse, gets its 81st summer of musical theater under way the weekend of June 6 with the annual Straw Hat Revue, featuring this season’s cast of theater interns.

The Chicago-born Ives has built his career on a series of short plays that take comic, acerbic swings at the routines of American life, and on historical events, such as the death of Marxist leader Leon Trotsky.

“He’s so smart, such a smart playwright, and there’s so many layers to what he does that it’s just funny to watch and listen to,” said Hetty Thomae, the longtime Upper Valley theater director who will direct the Parish Players in three plays, including Variations on the Death of Trotsky, this weekend and next at the Eclipse Grange.

Repetition runs through many of Ives’ works. In Variations, eight different scenarios lead to Trotsky’s downfall, “with different information in each piece,” Thomae said, “but a lot of the lines are repeated.” What keeps the dialogue from becoming stale is the changing meaning of each line, depending on the situation in which Trotsky finds himself prior to death. In Foreplay, or the Art of the Fugue, another Ives work, the audience gets to see a man named Chuck at three different stages in his life, with each scene taking place as he tries to woo a new woman on a miniature golf course.

“Each time, Chuck is saying the same things to his date, and each time the date is responding differently,” Thomae said. “It’s a look at time and how people hear things, or respond to them.”

Thomae is known for her work with the North Country Community Theater teen ensemble, which stages an annual musical in the Lebanon Opera House. Producing “An Evening of Ives” represents a shift for Thomae, from staging theater that is easy on the eyes, ears and brain to a more cerebral entertainment.

“That’s why I like musical theater so much. It’s primarily entertaining,” Thomae said. “But I also think that theater has an obligation to give people something to think about. You don’t get that in musical comedy so much. So to be able to find something that is both entertaining, really funny, and also intelligent and thought-provoking, is a great combination for me.”

For its sole show this year, the Northern New England Repertory Theater Company decided to continue in the vein of last year’s production of Anna Christie by staging the Henrik Ibsen classic Hedda Gabler. Both dramas feature assertive women. The titular character in Hedda Gabler, which opens May 30 at Colby-Sawyer College, schemes to get her new husband ahead in his academic career at the expense of her former lover.

The lead role is again assumed by Katrina Ferguson, which is no accident, said Trace Oakley, director of Hedda Gabler.

“Playing a role like Hedda or Anna, it really is like an athlete who needs to know their regimen to be at their best all the time,” Oakley said.

In contrast to Hamlet, where the protagonist can asserts his emotions through a series of monologues, “Hedda has to express what she’s feeling in these short bursts, and it has to come out through the character’s action and short statements,” Oakley added. “We wouldn’t want to put the role of Hedda in the hands of anyone less skilled or talented than Katrina.”

Since Hedda Gabler debuted in 1891, the play and its central character have been subject to many critical and academic interpretations. Trying to sift through them made Oakley feel “like I was getting whiplash.” So he went back to basics, reading the text and determining what makes Hedda and those around her tick.

“It’s a story that has characters we all know,” Oakley said. “Hedda is still referred to as the very first desperate housewife. People are going to see people they know like her, or see themselves in other chracters. The thing they won’t expect is that there’s a great deal of humor in this play.”

Hedda Gabler will run for two weekends at Colby-Sawyer. At the same time, the New London Barn Playhouse will be getting its 81st season rolling just down the street, with 15 college student interns playing roles in the company’s six shows this year.

The Barn season will include some of the familiar musicals for which the company is known, including The Music Man (June 26-July 14), Singin’ in the Rain (July 17-28) and the less sunny Les Miserables (Aug. 7-18). Following the Straw Hat Revue from June 6 to 9, which will introduce the Barn audience to this season’s interns, or “Barnies,” the season opens with a production of The Student Prince, a seldom performed operetta.

“We pride ourselves on pulling out some old nuggets that people don’t do anymore and we breathe new life into them,” said Carol Dunne, the Barn’s artistic director. “We always aspire to do things at a level of excellence that is far beyond summer stock.”

Mid-season, the Barn will shift gears and premiere a new show for the first time in its history. A Legendary Romance, written by Timothy Prager and Geoff Morrow, will be performed from July 31 to Aug. 4. It’s a story of film producer who, after seeing a less-than-flattering portrayal of his life on screen, decides to recall his life in his own words, and with a happier ending.

“We love, love performing and producing classic repertoire, but for a theater to keep growing, you have to create some new work sometimes,” said Dunne, who will direct A Legendary Romance. “This has been an important goal of mine, so it’s kind of a dream come true.” The Barn season will conclude with a run of Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor, a comedy inspired by his years as a writer on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows in the 1950s.

Dunne is in her sixth season as the Barn’s artistic director, and she’ll soon serve in a similar role at Northern Stage. At the Barn, she said she has endeavored to “change a repertoire that was very, very safe” by adding new and edgy fare each year.

“When I took the job at the Barn six years ago, I was told that if I ever produced Hair that the audience would burn down the Barn Playhouse,” Dunne said. “And we did Hair last year, and it came in second” in ticket sales.

“My attitude always is you can’t make everyone happy all the time, so you have to focus and you have to deal with the fact that some of the work you’re going to do will alienate some people, but that next show you’re going to do will alienate someone else. The hope is that the work is so good that if a particular style of piece is not up someone’s alley, or not someone’s taste, that they will still appreciate and enjoy the program.”

The Parish Players will present “An Evening of David Ives” tomorrow and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., and again on May 31 and June 2. The Northern New England Repertory Theatre Company presents “Hedda Gabler” at 8 p.m. May 30-June 1 and June 6-8, and at 2 p.m. June 2 at Colby-Sawyer College in New London ( www.nnertc.org ). The New London Barn Playhouse commences its 81st season with the Straw Hat Revue from June 6-9 ( www.nlbarn.org ).

Best Bets

Selections from Benny Goodman, Gwenyth Walker and others will be part of the program at the Full Circle choral ensemble’s spring concerts this weekend. The 20-member ensemble will perform at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Bradford Congregational Church and at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Lyme Congregational Church. Donations gratefully accepted.

∎ In his Symphony No. 5, the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler explored a range of emotions in each movement, from joy to darkness, coming full circle in the final movement. Conducted by Anthony Princiotti, the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra will perform Mahler’s symphony at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Hopkins Center’s Spaulding Auditorium ($7-$29).

On Stage

The nightlife of 1930s Berlin is the setting for Cabaret, which will be performed by the Dartmouth Theater Department and directed by Dartmouth senior Max Hunter. Cabaret tells the story of performer Sally Bowles and her relationship with American writer Cliff Bradshaw. The show goes on at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Hopkins Center’s Warner Bentley Theater ($5).

Folk Music

Gilford, N.H., singer-songwriter Don Watson will perform selections from his new CD Welcome Home New Hampshire tonight at 7 at the Fiske Free Library in Claremont.

Comedy

Boston area comics Graig Murphy and Steve Scarfo share the stage at Saturday’s Tupelo Night of Comedy, which begins at 7 p.m. at Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction ($17).

Dances

Cuckoo’s Nest will perform the music and Ruth Sylvester will call at the fourth-Saturday contra dance at Tracy Hall in Norwich, starting at 8 p.m. ($8; $5, students; children 16 and younger free).

Bars and Clubs

Salt hill Pub in Lebanon has music this weekend from the Upper Valley dance band Dr. Burma at 9 p.m. Saturday.

∎ Canoe Club in Hanover has music this week from guitarist Phil Singer (tonight); jazz guitarist Ted Mortimer (tomorrow); guitarist Rowley Hazard (Saturday); Jairo Sequeira (Sunday); Bill Rosen (Tuesday); and Joshua Hall (Wednesday).

∎ Bistro Nouveau in Grantham hosts pianist John Lovejoy tomorrow and Mark and Debbie Bond on Saturday. Both performances begin at 6 p.m.

∎ Jason Cann performs at the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor at 6 tonight.

∎ Dan Walker plays for diners at Jesse’s Restaurant in Hanover, starting at 5 p.m. tomorrow.

∎ Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland has the Sullivan, Davis and Haskins Band at 9 p.m. tomorrow.

Open Mics

Seth Barbiero and Brian Warren host tonight’s open mic at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon, starting at 8.

∎ Chad Gibbs hosts Salt hill Pub in Hanover’s open mic at 7:30 p.m. Monday.

∎ Shepard’s Pie Restaurant on Route 4 in Quechee holds a Tuesday night open mic, starting at 6.

∎ The Colatina Exit in Bradford has an open mic on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.

∎ There’s an open jam each Tuesday night from 7 to 9 at Tuck’s Rock Dojo in Etna.

∎ Wednesday night is open mic night at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland. It’s led by Gregory Brown and starts at 8:30.

∎ Anthony Furnari hosts an open mic at Seven Barrel Brewery in West Lebanon at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Entertainment Highlights appears each Thursday. Email news and concert announcements to nsmith@vnews.com.