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Laughing the winter blues away at The Theater Project

February 9, 2024

Courtesy of Keith Anctil and Amanda DeHahn
PASSION PROJECT: Cast members Keith Anctil and Amanda DeHahn in “Winter Cabaret Redux” at The Theater Project in Brunswick. The group has been at 14 School Street in downtown Brunswick for nearly four decades.

Last night, The Theater Project in Brunswick kicked off the second and final weekend of performances of “Winter Cabaret Redux,” a sketch comedy show composed of eight sketches and complemented by live musical interludes. Ranging from a spoof on Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to a touching scene about lost baggage, the show was met with consistent laughter from a small but lively audience.

“Winter Cabaret Redux” opened with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, February 1-3, and rounded out the weekend with a matinee at 2 p.m. last Sunday, February 4. The schedule is the same this weekend.

Executive Director Amanda DeHahn, who first joined The Theater Project as a teenager, aimed to provide a night of laughter and joy for the community.

“Winter in Maine is hard for a lot of people, and we just wanted to produce something that would brighten spirits,” she said. “It’s a fun night out where you don’t have to think about things—you just laugh and listen and eat cake.”

The show represents a return to the format of the original “Winter Cabaret,” a discontinued Theater Project staple that last ran in 2015. This year’s production featured just one member of the original cast: Keith Anctil, an actor and director involved in The Theater Project since 1999, who served as the creative director.

Anctil mentioned that the loose, collaborative spirit of the original show served as a guide for the current rendition.

“We just had so much fun, and that’s always been the core of [Winter] Cabaret,” Anctil said. “We messed with each other. We tried to crack each other up. We’d make silly faces [from backstage]. We took it seriously enough, but it became a game within a game to see if we could make each other break on stage.”

Although returning to the show this year was different than in years before, Anctil said that the cast retained the same positive, casual energy.

“I don’t have the same depth of history with them that I had with that original cast,” he said. “But a bunch of the people in the cast are from our improv group…. So I have that connection with them and that energy where, you know, we rehearse improv and crack each other up.”

But the cast members didn’t just entertain themselves—the audience readily shared in the fun as well.

“Oh god, it was good to just come here and laugh. It was really great fun,” audience member Alice Cassidy of Freeport said.

Topsham musician Jud Caswell provided live music—singing and playing the guitar between the skits and performing a handful of cheeky original compositions intermingled with renditions of classics like Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.”

“I’ve known The Theater Project forever and getting asked to do anything here is just a real treat,” Caswell said.

Because his friend Ben Hunsberger played the music for last weekend’s performance, Caswell was able to create music based on the feel of the skits after they had already been performed.

“I was so happy to see the show on Sunday and see the sketches,” Caswell said. “I had almost a whole week to think about what I would want to play and how I would want it to fit in. Everybody here is just so gracious about making space for ideas.”

Wicked Joe offered free coffee and tea, and slices of cake from Wild Oats Bakery were available for purchase during intermission.

Located on School Street in downtown Brunswick, The Theater Project’s small black-box theater offers an intimate experience, with minimal distance separating viewers from the stage. For “Winter Cabaret Redux,” sets of tables and chairs were added to the floor of the theater, bringing the audience even closer.

“I’d walked by [and] wondered what was inside,” audience member Brooke Parkin of Brunswick said. “The space is very sweet.”

“I’ve been in a lot of theaters, and this is just a magic space to me,” Anctil said. “It’s not a proscenium stage where the actors are 60 feet away and they have to over-act and project. As an actor in this space, you can be so nuanced and so subtle and the audience doesn’t miss anything. Because you’re right there, you can be real.”

Originally founded as The Young People’s Theater in the 1970s by Al Miller, The Theater Project took over its current space in 1986. From the beginning, the theater has placed an emphasis on education and accessibility.

“For me, The Theater Project has always been about community,” DeHahn said. “[Al Miller] believed people of all ages and abilities just had this innate creative spirit, and walking in this space, they were able to harness that and do something with it.”

“The other thing I love about us is that all of our tickets are pay what you can,” she said. “There should be no barrier to arts or entertainment.”

Following “Winter Cabaret Redux,” the Theater Project plans to premiere a modern adaptation of the ancient Greek comedy “Lysistrata” on March 22 with an all-female cast.


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