NHTP, Pontine season lineups

Portsmouth-based theater companies have new homes and new shows

The New Hampshire Theatre Company (NHTP) has been putting on shows at West End Studio Theatre (WEST) since 1984. But only as of July 1 has NHTP been able to truly call WEST home. That’s when the company became the sole tenant of the intimate space, located off Islington Street in Portsmouth’s West End. NHTP signed a two-year least with an option to buy the theater, creating an opportunity to expand their programming. And so it was with an extra jolt of excitement that NHTP announced the launch of its 28th season last week.

Meanwhile, another theater company that has staged numerous shows at WEST announced the lineup for its 39th season. Pontine Theatre, now a resident company at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, will bring its 2016-2017 Performance Series to a number of Seacoast locations.

CJ Lewis in NHTP's 2015 production of "I Am My Own Wife."

CJ Lewis in NHTP’s 2015 production of I Am My Own Wife. photo by Sofia Piel

Led by artistic director Genevieve Achiele, NHTP is now aiming to improve the facilities at WEST. The company has launched an online fundraising campaign to upgrade the stage lighting equipment. As of last week, the Bring Up the Lights! campaign had raised $3,600 toward its year-end goal of $10,000. Beyond that, NHTP will soon start fundraising for the purchase of WEST.

Technically, the company’s 2016-2017 season began on Sept. 10 with a sold-out performance by classical guitarist Steven Hancoff. The season continues with “She Will Lead: Women in Politics,” a new work by Catherine Stewart that will be staged from Nov. 4-14. Billed as an “absurdist adventure into political history, gender and apathy,” the show opens just days before the 2016 presidential election, when voters may elect the nation’s first female president.

The season’s first main-stage show takes place Nov. 18-Dec. 4, when Gale Childs Daly brings Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” to life with a cast of six actors playing multiple characters.

The next main-stage show is “Metamorphoses,” Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of the narrative poem by Ovid, from Jan. 13-29. The main-stage season wraps up with “I Am My Own Wife” from April 21-30. The company previously staged the play by Doug Wright in 2015.

NHTP’s Youth Repertory Company will present two shows next spring. “Is He Dead?,” by Mark Twain and David Ives, takes place March 17-26. “The Jungle Book,” adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s story, takes place April 7-9.

There will also be a performance by guest artist Diane Edgecomb on Dec. 21. The Boston-based storyteller will present “Winter Solstice in Legend & Song.”

The Intelligent Theatre Festival, which includes staged play readings and discussions, takes place March 31-April 2.

NHTP will announce additional spring and summer events after the New Year. For more information, visit nhtheatreproject.org.

Marguerite Mathews and Greg Gathers in Pontine's production of "Dunnet Landing Stories."

Marguerite Mathews and Greg Gathers in Pontine’s production of Dunnet Landing Stories. courtesy photo

Founded in 1977, Pontine Theatre is led by the two-person team of Greg Gathers and Marguerite Mathews. Often focusing on old stories with direct ties to New England, the pair uses puppets, masks, toy-theater figures, and other unique props to create distinctive shows.

Pontine’s season kicks off Nov. 4-6 at the New Castle Historical Society, where Massachusetts-based storyteller Jay O’Callahan performs his one-man show, “Falling for Emily Dickinson.”

The company’s annual holiday celebration, “A New England Christmas,” features a puppet-heavy adaptation of Frank Stockton’s story, “Captain Eli’s Best Ear.” The show takes place at the Seacoast Science Center in Rye from Dec. 9-11.

Pontine’s first show of 2017 will be “Dunnet Landing Stories,” based on the work of South Berwick native Sarah Orne Jewett. It will be staged at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth from Feb. 3-5.

From March 3-5, Pontine will present Diane Edgecomb’s “A Thousand Doorways: Journey Among the Kurds of Turkey,” at Strawbery Banke. The show is based on Edgecomb’s real-life quest to document the vanishing folkloric tales of the Kurds.

Finally, Pontine will present its interpretation of Thomas Bailey Aldrich’s “The Story of a Bad Boy” from April 21-30. It takes place at Strawbery Banke — a fitting location, since Aldrich lived there as a child.

In addition to the main-stage shows, Pontine will produce the annual “Zest-Fest: New Vaudeville Festival” from Dec. 26-30 at Strawbery Banke. The festival features King Pong with Maine-based artist Michael Trautman, YoYo Show with Massachusetts-based duo John and Rebecca Higby, and World of Wonder with Maine-based performer Leland Faulkner.

For more information, visit pontine.org.