Mark Torres likes to tell stories. That’s what he’s hoping to do when he puts together a season at the Penobscot Theatre, where he is producing artistic director.
“I think they like stories,” Torres said of the theatergoers who have boosted subscriptions at the theater from 211 (three years ago when Torres arrived in Bangor) to 800 this year. “I look at my job as being the person who is responsible to the community to bring works that they will enjoy and be glad they experienced.”
Glorying in the success of this summer’s Shakespeare Festival, which ran for six nights in Bangor and sold out nearly each time, Torres knows the “stories” at Penobscot Theatre have drawn the general theater audience.
Additionally, when the New England Theatre Conference takes place in November in Portland, Torres will be there to pick up an award for excellence in theater on a regional level. Based on a confidential board nomination, the award represents an important regional acknowledgement of the work Torres is doing in Bangor. Penobscot Theatre was one of four theaters in Maine to be lauded for such achievements. The other three include Mad Horse Theatre in Portland, The Theater Project in Brunswick, and The LA Public Theater in Auburn.
“As an organization, we are working well,” said Torres. “We have tremendous support from the community of Greater Bangor and northern Maine. I really think that this theater belongs to the community.”
The 1995-1996 season at Penobscot Theatre kicks off Friday with “The Illusion,” a comedic adaptation of an 18th century French play. The theme of the season is “Magic, Mystery, Mirth,” but Torres admits that the spectrum of works do neatly fit into an overall category.
But he promises that the season with be a lively combination of comedy and drama, classical and contemporary.
“The Illusion” was adapted by Tony Kushner, who has been in the theater-world spotlight for his Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Angels in America.” Written originally as “L’Illusion Comique” by Pierre Corneille, “The Illusion,” which runs Oct. 5-22, is about a father who looks for his long-lost son by employing a magician.
“This is one of those plays that the actors can’t tell their friends too much about without giving away the surprises in the story,” said Torres.
Since announcing the season last month, Torres has had to make one change. He originally scheduled “Three Tall Women” by Edward Albee for the second show but had to pull it. The show recently closed in New York, but because a professional touring production has been in progress, other theaters cannot get the rights to it. In its place for the Nov. 3-19 slot, Torres has scheduled “Traveler in the Dark,” about a surgeon who returns home to attend the funeral of a woman who died under his knife. The play is by Marsha Norman, who won a Pulitzer for ” ‘Night Mother,” and will be directed by the theater’s associate director, Lisa A. Tromovitch.
Tromovitch will also direct a sure-fire interest for serious theatergoers, the American classic “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” by Tennessee Williams. It will run Feb. 2-18.
Larry Shue’s crazy comedy “The Foreigner” will be guest directed by Jay Skriletz, the theater’s set designer, and will run March 29-April 14.
The final show of the season will be “Dial M For Murder,” Frederick Knott’s classic take of a man who marries — and plans to murder — for money. Torres will be back in the director’s seat for that show, which will run May 10-26.
The holiday show, which is not advertised on the season brochure but will run Dec. 8-23, is a musical version of “The Gift of the Magi,” written by Mark St. Germain with lyrics and music by Randy Courts. The show is based on two O. Henry stories — “The Gift of the Magi” about a husband and wife who exchange meaningful treasures, and “The Cop and the Anthem,” about a bum’s efforts to get himself jailed during the Christmas season.
“The basis of the work at Penobscot Theatre is to try to make us better people by sitting through the theater experience,” said Torres. “I think people should leave the theater not with answers but with questions they can apply to their lives. You can’t really do what we’re doing anywhere else — like in a movie theater or at a computer. And we hope it will continue to be valuable and interesting to our culture.”
For information about the 1995-1996 Penobscot Theatre season, call 942-3333.