There are stories we tell again and again each holiday season, about Grinches, reindeer, magical trains and much else. In Greater Bangor, four local performing arts groups will share some of the most beloved holiday tales on stage this month — be they 19th-century parables, still relevant in 2018, or contemporary comedic romps involving rather tall elves.
This weekend, Ken Stack, a stalwart of eastern Maine theater, will return to the role he performed for nearly 30 years: Ebenezer Scrooge of “A Christmas Carol.”
Scrooge and the whole cast of characters will be brought to life in Ten Bucks Theatre Company’s reader’s theater production of “A Christmas Carol,” directed by Andrea Littlefield and set for 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Bangor Arts Exchange on Exchange Street in downtown Bangor. It’s been a whole decade since Stack last played Scrooge — the last time was in 2008 — but he says he’s settling back into the role nicely, especially thanks to the stripped-down reader’s theater style, which does away with sets in favor of focusing on the text.
“[Scrooge] is an old guy. He accumulates rust very easily, so I’ve had some rust to scrape off,” said Stack, who by day is an entertainment production instructor and program coordinator at Husson University. “Since it’s reader’s theater, we can really focus on the text and what Dickens really meant with his words. It’s helped me to hear things with new ears. It remains a powerful story.”
Just a few days after the run of “A Christmas Carol” is over, another area actor will return to a role he’s quite familiar with. Dominick Varney, seen in countless Penobscot Theatre Company shows, will play Crumpet in David Sedaris’ modern-day holiday classic, the one-act satirical monologue “The Santaland Diaries,” produced by PTC and set for three weekends, Dec. 13-30, also at the Bangor Arts Exchange.
In “Santaland,” the character of Crumpet and the story as a whole is based on Sedaris’ real-life experiences working as an elf in the Macy’s Santaland display in New York City. The experience, as you might expect, wasn’t a holly jolly one.
Varney last played Crumpet in 2009, which was also the last time PTC presented the show, after a three-year run.
“I think we as a society are obsessed with having the perfect Christmas. Getting the perfect photo. Parents are relentless about it. They want it, no matter what,” Varney said. “I think that’s why this show is super relatable. A lot of us can get a little grumpy with all the fuss around it. … But what’s nice about this show is that this grumpy, grumpy man finds his own kind of Christmas spirit, by the end of it.”
“The Santaland Diaries” runs alongside PTC’s main holiday offering: “Elf: The Musical,” a big, splashy contemporary musical based on yet another modern-day classic film, the holiday comedy “Elf.” Buddy the Elf, the role originally played on screen by Will Ferrell, will be played by the singing, dancing, PTC favorite Ira Kramer.
And, finally, there’s a granddaddy of all local holiday productions: the Robinson Ballet and the Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s 35th year of joint productions of “The Nutcracker,” set for 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 15, and 3 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono. Robinson Ballet will perform the ballet alone at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9 at the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor.
In a unique twist, however, this year’s “Nutcracker” will feature something brand new. The role of Mother Ginger, the mostly stationary role that asks the dancer to wear a gigantic dress from under which her “children” emerge, will be played at each Orono performance by three well-known locals. They are Ric Tyler, a radio personality and marketer at Sutherland and Weston in Bangor; Deb Neuman, president of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce; and UMaine women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon.
“My reaction when they asked was, ‘Seriously? Really?’” Neuman, who has no professional dance experience, said. “My co-workers will tell you that I was useless at work the rest of the day. … I have been researching Mother Ginger by watching videos and will do my best to make all of the previous Mother Gingers proud.”